Xcel Energy embarks on virtual inspections of transmission grid via drones and helicopters

eSmart Systems, Xcel Energy, and EDM International Announce the Successful Completion of Phase One of Xcel Energy’s Transmission Grid Virtual Inspection Project

The first phase of an initiative to enhance the aerial inspection of Xcel Energy’s transmission system was completed this week according to eSmart Systems, Xcel, and EDM International.

Xcel used Grid Vision, an AI-based data analytics solution from eSmart coupled with human brainpower as part of an initiative called Collaborative Intelligence to complete the inspections. The companies see Collaborative Intelligence as a linchpin in transitioning from manual grid inspection practices to a process that uses the combination of humans, AI, and aerial images and results in more efficient inspections reduced failure rates, and extended asset life.

The first phase, launched in December 2019, involved the inspection of 2,897 miles of Xcel Energy’s transmission assets and finished ahead of schedule in March. The multi-year initiative will be expanded into Phase Two to continue to update asset records, reduce operational costs, decrease failure rates, and extend asset life.

Phase Two, which was launched in May 2020, adds 5,000 miles of the utility’s transmission system to be inspected by the end of 2020. As in Phase One, transmission asset imagery will be collected by Xcel Energy’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), aka drones, and manned helicopters. This second phase will improve the inspection processes, said the companies, by enhancing the Collaborative Intelligence approach with a deeper integration of Grid Vision. eSmart and EDM are using the Phase One image data to improve the efficacy of Grid Vision, improving asset component identification and defect detection, they said.

“eSmart Systems is pleased to partner with EDM to bring its Collaborative Intelligence approach to help Xcel Energy use aerial image data. We see this project as helping utilities to practically bridge the gap in the transition from today’s largely manual processes to the world that leverages digital technology such as AI and UAS images for grid inspection and asset management,” says Knut H. H. Johansen, CEO and founder of eSmart Systems.

“The problems we’re solving for Xcel Energy, including a full inventory of grid assets and updating their inventory system, as well as accelerating the identification of defects, will help utilities more efficiently and safely operate their critical infrastructure,” adds Steve Hambric, President of North America at eSmart Systems.

“Xcel Energy’s work on unmanned aircraft systems with our partners demonstrates that collaboration benefits customers, the economy and the environment,” said Michael Lamb, senior vice president, transmission for Xcel Energy.

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Jennifer Runyon is a Content Director at Clarion Energy, writing, editing and posting content on POWERGRID International and planning conference sessions for DISTRIBUTECH's live and virtual events. She as the conference advisory committee chair for DISTRIBUTECH International. You can reach her at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com.

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