Xcel says it's happy with its drone project

Oct 2, 2016

Xcel Energy said it’s been happy with the results so far of a project – where it is using drones to help find power line problems.

Xcel’s Mark Nisbet said the utility has been involved with the state’s two research universities to see if drones could help Xcel restore power faster to areas that have suffered storm damage.

"If we can get a drone into the air, and get real-time video back to our planners and teh people who are going to need to determine how many poles or transformers to bring in, we believe we could make a significant difference in getting service back on," Nisbet said.

Nisbet said Xcel is using the same drone – manufactured in Israel – that NDSU is using for an agricultural project. He said it took pictures and live-streamed video over the city of Mayville.

"So now, the secret is, how do you input it into the computer system, so it can tell the differences from pre-storm to after storm?" Nisbet said. "We put a secnario together with downed poles and markers, and now we'll see if we can get the computer to pop those differences to us."

Nisbet said that should mean customers will see their power restored more quickly.

"If we can cut 12 hours out of restoration, and we can have all the parts and pieces waiting for our crews, we believe it could materially speed up restoration," Nisbet said.

Nisbet said Xcel is working with UND’s “Big Data” center to help process the information received from the drones.