San Diego Gas & Electric will now be able to keep an eye on its facilities from the sky using drones.
The utility became the second in the nation to get Federal Aviation Administration approval Monday to fly unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) throughout its territory.
SDG&E hopes the technology will be especially useful during emergencies, when they need to assess if facilities are damaged.
“The new UAS technology will enable us to improve response times to emergency situations, inspect our electric and gas facilities in remote areas that are otherwise difficult to access, reduce the use of manned helicopters, enhance overall employee and public safety, and locate the cause of power outages faster,” said John Sowers, SDG&E’s vice president of electric distribution operations, in a news release.
Officials also plan to use the small drones, which measure 16 inches in diameter and weigh less than a pound, to monitor fires. They say by not deploying helicopters, the utility can save money, reduce noise and help protect the environment.
The UAS are equipped with cameras to fly over SDG&E grids and send live pictures back to their controllers. They should help inspectors keep an aerial eye on more than 26,000 miles of transmission and distribution power lines.
In 2014, the FAA allowed SDG&E to fly UAS for research, development and flight crew training in remote areas of the county. Monday’s approval means that drones can now be used in day-to-day operations.