Southern Company tests drones for checking on widespread power assets

Mobile County’s Plant Barry wins FAA approval for drone use

A large unmanned aerial system showed itself useful checking transmission facilities near Bay Minette.

Drones checked 28 miles of Southern Company transmission facilities near Bay Minette recently, demonstrating the unmanned systems’ usefulness for power company work. 

At the same time, the power company announced that it has received Federal Aviation Administration approval to use drones at Alabama Power’s Plant Barry in Mobile County to map and inspect stacks, transmission lines and basins.

Southern Company is teaming with Mississippi State University’s Raspet Flight Research Laboratory to develop use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to keep track of power facilities. The drones can map infrastructure, check for storm damage and conduct routine inspections, the power company says. This checking that goes beyond the visual line of sight for drone operation still requires FAA approval.

While working with the large drone, the company and university team also deployed a camera-equipped helicopter to capture footage and evaluate the sensor network.

“This research work is a game-changer,” said Mississippi Power President and CEO Anthony Wilson, who chairs the Mississippi State University Foundation. “The data and knowledge we gain through this partnership will help improve safety and reliability, reduce costs and enable us to respond quicker should incidents in our system occur.”

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“We are proud of the continued research partnership with Southern Company,” said Julie Jordan, MSU vice president for research and economic development. “Through investment in this technology, Southern Company is leading the way for broadscale industry adoption. This flight operation and remote sensing research illustrates the profound safety benefits UAS offer to the utility industry and supports not only Southern Company but the industries and citizens that rely on their services.”

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