VIDEO: North Dakota, Xcel invest in drone technology to improve disaster response

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North Dakota awarded Xcel Energy and its partners a $500,000 grant, Tuesday, as the state establishes itself as a national leader in the drone industry, while developing better ways to respond to natural disasters.

Xcel Energy, Elbit Systems of America and others are providing $500,000 in matching funds for a pilot program that will research ways to speed recovery efforts following natural disasters. One of the greatest challenges during storms is reaching and assessing damage in hard hit areas. Using unmanned aerial vehicles to send information back to a control center to be analyzed immediately will help save time, money and lives.

“We’re pleased the state of North Dakota is taking the lead on developing drone technology,” said Chris Clark, president Xcel Energy-North Dakota. “We see it as an effective tool that can improve energy reliability and safety for our customers and employees, and we are eager to explore additional ways to use it.”

“North Dakota’s leadership in the UAS industry continues to attract companies from across the globe, and we are fully committed to further developing our expertise and assets as a national hub for UAS research, development and commercialization,” North Dakota Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley said. “I applaud Xcel Energy, Elbit Systems of America and the University of North Dakota for collaborating and utilizing state resources, such as Research ND, demonstrating that same level of commitment.”

The community of Mayville will be the test site for the pilot program. The University of North Dakota, General Electric, Northern Plains UAS Test Site and Waypoint Global Strategies are other partners in the project.

Xcel Energy did the first FAA sanctioned utility flight using drones in North Dakota in October 2015. Xcel Energy inspects 320,000 miles of electricity and natural gas infrastructure, thousands of substations and dozens of power plants in the eight states it serves to ensure the safety and reliability of its energy system.

Xcel Energy serves more than 93,000 electric customers and nearly 54,000 natural gas customers in North Dakota.

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