A survey by Laserpas has found that the oldest power lines are not necessarily the most likely to cause trouble to utility companies.
Laserpas, a helicopter and drone operator that specialises in power grid inspection, made the discovery whilst conducting a large-scale project in Romania.
Company experts examined over 187 miles of power lines in Romania using drones and helicopters.
The inspection covered 1,200 dangerous buildings, 1,325 trees which pose severe danger to nearby power lines, 152 bodies of water underlying power lines, almost 2,000 towers (out of 5,175) covered in rust and as many as 280 broken insulators.
Significantly the survey found that, despite common misconceptions, the oldest power lines are not always the ones in greatest disrepair.
“Our findings have once and for all dismantled the myth that the oldest lines are the ones that could potentially cause the most trouble to utility companies,” said Mantas Vaskela, CEO of Laserpas. “In fact, the results show that the so called time-based inspection approach is practically useless when it comes to responsible power line maintenance.”
It is commonly believed that distribution towers and poles take 25-30 years to show the first signs of corrosion.
However, Laserpas’s inspection showed a different picture: half a mile of distribution line built in 1955 had one broken insulator and approximately five towers affected by corrosion, whereas the same span of a line built in 1985 also had one broken insulator but eight towers were affected by rust.
“This comes to show that data-driven inspection schedule as opposed to time-based maintenance approach is the cost-saving recipe that should be followed by all utility companies seeking to optimise their costs,” said Vaskela.
“There are various factors which are way more important than the age of a particular power line. These include tower configurations, asset condition, et cetera.”
Laserpas uses highly advanced technologies, such as nadir and oblique aerial cameras, as part of a three-stage process to collect, process and interpret the data. The company believes that systematic, data-driven inspections of power assets, rather than a time-based approach, can help save up to 50% of costs and make power line maintenance more efficient.
Power outages, surges and spikes cost the US around $150 billion annually. Over 3,800 outages were reported in 2016 alone – a 9% upsurge in comparison to the previous year.