Transmission from the Top: Matt Searels

Transmission from the Top: Matt Searels

Innovation

By Matt Searels, Regional Manager

It is a new day and a new year at CNUC. The amount of change that has occurred since I began a few years ago is daunting, and the opportunities for personal and professional growth have equaled that magnitude. Although, I view some of my personal successes as luck and circumstance, much of it can be attributed to simply never saying “no” to any challenge that was presented to me, and always performing at my very best. Each of the authors that have written in this segment before me has described how dedication, perseverance, ethical prowess, continual development, and self-improvement is the formula of success for you, our company, and the industry.

As new technologies emerge and old technologies are applied in new ways, we all must explore, investigate and learn how to apply these tools to remain utility vegetation management (UVM) experts and leaders. The use of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), also commonly referred to as drones, will be the next tool to significantly impact remote sensing technologies to the UVM industry. Recently, the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), an association for shareholder-owned utilities, and Sharper Shape Inc., a commercial drone company, partnered to develop a commercial model for UAS beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flights for electric companies.

CNUC has been working with Sharper Shape Inc. for about two years and was invited to participate in the EEI Sharper Utility project. CNUC was able to provide valuable industry knowledge and field expertise, while also discovering much more about the current capabilities of applying drones to UVM inspections. While UAS cannot eliminate the need for other types of comprehensive vegetation patrols, they could improve safety and cost effectiveness for gas and electric companies in our mission to increase the reliability of the grid. Furthermore, they will enhance the ability for one to detect and measure potential threats that cannot be seen with the naked eye. Applying technology, such as LiDAR, will allow UAS users to make discreet measurements between vegetation and conductors to support the development of predictive growth models from the data that is collected.

Due to the complexity of US airspace and the unwritten story of societal acceptance, beyond visual line of site (BVLOS) flights with UAVs have not been an option for our industry due to restrictions by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). With the recent release of FAA Rule 107 for small UAS, barriers are beginning to be lowered. This allows a waiver of most of the new restrictions associated with Rule 107, if demonstration of safe operation can be conducted. This alleviates some of the process constraints of the Section 333 exemptions that are part of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. Rule 107 opens up some opportunities, but there is still work to do to eliminate the barriers to safe, commercial, BVLOS UAS use in the utility industry.

As regulations relax, technologies advance, and the commercial use of UAS in UVM opens, more of you will be asked to directly participate and become involved with the implementation of these tools. This will be a multi-faceted process which will require varied personnel with a diversity of skills. We will need people that can transport, people who have the skills to operate equipment, and people to develop software and perform data analyses. We’ll also need arborists to make final decisions about the work that needs to be performed on an individual tree after remote sensors are identified based on parameters that we specify, and we’ll need people to communicate and negotiate with landowners.

These are extremely exciting times where we all have opportunities to explore and investigate technology. I challenge each of you to take it upon yourself to stay engaged, offer ideas of ways to apply new concepts appropriately, and continually self-improve. Together we can make a positive contribution to UVM, arboriculture, our environment, and future generations.

Matthew Searels

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