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If you think about what some of the most technically demanding drone services are, powerline inspections would certainly make it to the top of the list.
Over the last few years, national outages cost the USA alone more than $100 billion – add the costs of inspection to that equation, and the numbers can be mind-boggling.
To try and reduce these costs, powerline inspectors have increasingly started to use drones for this activity.
In this guide, we are going to go over some of the best drones for powerline inspections, how you can use them, and talk about some of the risks associated with this activity.
Best Drones for Power Line Inspection
After going through dozens of different reviews and taking experts’ opinions into consideration, here is the list that we have come up with for the best drones for powerline inspection.
DJI Inspire 2
After spending a hefty amount of time revamping and upgrading the DJI Inspire 1, the developers have introduced a variety of new advanced features in the Inspire 2 model.
Due to the numerous advanced flight modes and a robust obstacle avoidance feature, it’s no wonder why this drone is so popular among powerline inspectors.
No matter how complex the powerline area may be, you won’t have to worry about the Inspire 2 crashing into towers or other objects on its way.
The developers have also included two remote controllers for additional control – one for flying the drone and the other for managing the camera options. This makes acquiring useful footage a whole lot easier.
- Weight: 7250g
- Camera resolution: 20 MP
- Video resolution: 5K 30 FPS and 4k 60 FPS
- Battery life: 25 minutes
- High-quality camera
- Two remote controllers
- Advanced flight modes
- Not suitable for beginner pilots
DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Pro
The Mavic 2 Enterprise Pro is one of the most frequently used drones for powerline inspections in the world – and for good reasons.
One of its main benefits is that it can capture RGB data in low and middle-voltage transmission towers better than any other drone currently on the market.
Plus, it has stellar obstacle avoidance features, which is also one of the key factors for powerline inspection; you don’t want your expensive models running into infrastructures.
Due to its compactness and lightweight, it is also very portable, and inspectors can carry it around to different jobs with ease.
The only thing that this DJI model lacks is battery power, but powerline inspectors are already used to bringing two or three spare batteries during inspections, just in case.
- Weight: 905g
- Camera resolution: 12 MP
- Video resolution: 4K 60 FPS
- Battery life: 31 minutes
- High-quality obstacle avoidance
- Great at capturing RGB data
- Average battery power
DJI Matrice 300
The last drone on our list is a technology powerhouse – DJI Matrice 300.
This model can do pretty much you ask of it, from RGB and thermal data capture to middle and high voltage lines, the Matrice is a top performer.
Since it can carry a load of up to 9kg, you can equip it with a variety of different sensors to acquire the most detailed footage.
The Matrice 300 also has one of the best flight times – an astounding 55 minutes. Aside from the battery, it also comes with robust AI capabilities and six directional sensing features.
- Weight: 5kg
- Camera resolution: 20 MP
- Video resolution: 4K 30 FPS
- Flight time: 55 minutes
- It can carry a huge weight
- AI Capabilities
- Extremely long flight time
What are some of the Risks associated with using drones for power-line inspections?
As we said in the beginning, using drones for powerline inspection carries a lot of risks.
Firstly, VK powerlines can interfere with the performance of your drone, which makes flying it much harder. This type of interference is similar to a Wi-Fi network.
Next, using a drone for powerline inspection requires using ferromagnetic protection due to the high voltage of transmission towers. If you don’t, you risk your controller getting fried.
Also, ferromagnetic resistance can show you the exact amount of resistance that your machine can handle. In this regard, both the Mavic 2 Enterprise and Matrice 300 come out on top compared to the Inspire 2.
To avoid running into issues with interference, it’s best to fly directly above or beside the powerlines and transmission towers. The recommended distance is around 30 meters (100 feet) from a powerline.
How to Use Drones for Power-line Inspections
One of the main benefits of using drones for powerline inspections is that they can access areas that would otherwise be nearly impossible to inspect. This refers to areas that men can’t manually come near to, otherwise known as BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight) operations.
However, the pilots have to be extremely skilled, experienced, and qualified to use drones for this purpose. It is one of the hardest drone inspections to pull off.
When you begin with the operation, you want to use the drone’s camera to film the power grid topology and capture shots that will later be used for damage assessments.
Oftentimes, it’s good to establish a predefined route for the drone to follow, just in case you lose control due to interference. This also allows you to adjust the route depending on your findings.
Which equipment will you need for doing power-line inspections?
First of all, let’s begin with the type of drone you need.
One of the first things you should consider is whether your model has a magnetic interference feature like the ones we mentioned in our list.
Next, you will need a good camera that includes high-quality zoom capabilities (Z30 is a good example) and a gimbal system. If the drone can carry both an optical camera and a thermal camera, it will be able to capture some damages that would otherwise go unnoticed.
While some pilots use consumer drones for inspections, this can be a huge risk in case they don’t have ferromagnetic interference. An alternative to this would be to create a Faraday cage that will prevent the controller from frying up. For a pricier alternative, you can even purchase a fixed-wing drone.
Now, aside from drones, you will also need to invest in a quality Spectrometer. They are used for determining the exact points where interferences will increase. You can find suitable Spectrometers for around $1000.
Finally, you should use a Thermal Radiometric camera for acquiring the most precise measurements. Just be careful – a Thermal Radiometric camera isn’t the same as a Thermal camera. To check which one it is, look for an XTR sign (stands for XT Radiometric).
Why use drones for power inspection?
There are many reasons why you should use a drone for powerline inspection.
Firstly, they can quickly map out a specific area, capturing all the powerlines while at the same time avoiding transmission towers.
If you choose a compact model that is lightweight, you will be able to cover a huge amount of territory that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to.
Due to the 3D mapping features, you can even use them to create better routes in case there is any larger installation needed.
Next, picking a drone with a high-quality camera will allow you to acquire some detailed shots of the powerlines and towers, which expert operators can use to analyze if there are any damages.
However, one of the main benefits of drones is that they can prevent human accidents.
Powerline inspections are gruesome work, and each year dozens of workers get electrocuted, fall, or have some third type of accident.
Using drones eliminates these risks and makes sure that all of the workers stay safe, not to mention the lower costs of operations.
Fixed-wing or multirotor?
While this is somewhat a close call, fixed-wing drones perform slightly better in powerline inspections. They are faster, can carry heavier equipment, and have a better flight range.
Powerlines are usually very complex, so the extra maneuverability you get with a fixed-wing drone can come in handy quite a bit.
Do I need to get any formal training?
This depends on whether you plan on making powerline inspections a career or it’s some sort of a side gig.
In case you want to become a professional, having some type of certificate will definitely help you land more gigs and market yourself better. For example, flight training courses can be a good option, aside from getting a certificate; you will also have the chance to learn something new from experienced pilots.
Do drones work near power lines?
Since drones can be used for powerline inspections, many people assume that they can fly them in their immediate proximity of them.
This can be a huge mistake because powerlines can disrupt your drone’s signal and cause interference if you get too close to them.
This type of electrical current can significantly damage your drone and mess up its internal system. It’s also why powerline inspections require the work of a professional and experienced pilot.