HOOKSETT — Don’t be alarmed if you see drones patrolling your neighborhood in the coming months.
Chances are it’s an Eversource Energy drone, being used to inspect power lines for defects and breaks.
Eversource is now using drones to more efficiently inspect electric lines across New Hampshire. The aerial devices provide the energy company with a close look at high-voltage energy infrastructure spanning remote, hard to reach areas. Data collected during the required inspections will help to identify potential issues with electric lines, poles or equipment.
The utility company hosted a drone demonstration last week at the Pine Hill substation in Hooksett, with officials demonstrating how the company hopes to replace inspections via noisy, hovering, manned helicopters, with the unmanned, quieter drones.
Right now, Eversource is using the flying machines as a complement to foot patrols and helicopters to provide detailed images of power lines — especially ones that aren’t easily accessible otherwise.
Eventually, Eversource hopes widespread drone usage will serve as a way to better inspect the power lines, while reducing environmental impacts and customer costs.
“Identifying issues before they become a problem is important,” said Eversource Media Specialist Kaitlyn Woods. “The drones are less intrusive to neighbors since they are much quieter.”
The first drone inspection experiment in New Hampshire was conducted on a distribution line in Nashua about two years ago.
Prior to that, the company had used drones to inspect lines in Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Since the drones are unmanned, they burn less gas than a regular hovering helicopter, and pose less of a threat to the workers, as they will not be as close of contact with the lines.
The drones are flown by Mesa Technologies pilots, who are certified and trained to fly the drones in accordance with state and federal regulations.
"Drone technology offers a safe, cost-effective and environmentally-friendly way to perform required inspections of electrical lines, structures and equipment, said Eversource NH Vice President of Electric Operations Joe Purington. "This high-tech solution provides a critical, birds-eye view, enabling us to identify any potential issues in an effort to ensure our customers have the energy they need for every moment of their lives."
During last week's demonstration officials used the DJI Matrice 210 RTK drone to perform test runs. A similar model will be used for the actual launches.
Senior Utility Consultant and pilot Allen Tweed talked through the entire process as he gracefully lifted the drone into the air.
Although Tweed has been flying drones for about six years, he mentioned it took him about three months with instruction to master navigating them over the transmission lines.
“They (the drones) are great for maintenance liability and utility,” said Tweed, “and great for documentation.”
The still images taken from the drone while in the air are tweaked to optimum visibility by Mesa Technologies and sent back to Eversource to be tested and evaluated by experts.
“The new technology has posed few issues,” said Tweed. “The basic stuff works well, and the power lines are in good shape from what we’ve seen so far.”
Officials said the drone use will be limited to inspections of Eversource equipment by certified operators without compromising the privacy of nearby property owners. Using drones will also minimize the need for periodic inspections by low-flying helicopters and will reduce the use of fossil fuels while also minimizing the need for vehicle access to inspect equipment in areas that may be environmentally sensitive.