Based out of Juno Beach, FL, Florida Power and Light (FPL) is the largest power utility company in Florida. Helping FPL maintain power services for more than 5million residential, commercial, and industrial customers is drone technology. While many utility companies in the United States have begun utilizing drones, FPL is considered a pioneer in how drones can provide reliable energy solutions.
FPL has a dedicated drone team that manages about 10 drone assessments daily. The drones are flown by highly skilled Part 107 pilots to examine miles of powerlines crossing Florida. The drones can inspect powerlines and transmitters for any defects without posing any risks to people. Before using drones, utility technicians would have to go up in a cherry-picker to manually inspect live wires and transmitters. Not only is this a dangerous job, but it is also very time consuming. When it comes to reliable power, especially in the extreme heat and humidity of Florida, expediency is essential.
Michael Dorr, a senior drone pilot for FPL, said that while drones have been useful for routine inspections, in 2017 they truly realized just how beneficial drones could be. “Hurricane Irma was the first time we deployed drones after a hurricane. It added immense value to find areas of damage that are inaccessible by flooding, down trees, or other debris,” Michael said. In the wake of Hurricane Irma, FPL completed more than 1,300 drone flights over nearly 300 hours. The drones were critical in providing restoration crews with accurate damage plans and a bird’s eye view of how to safely access sites in need of repair.
As FPL braces for the 2022 hurricane season, they are amping up their drone program. During the first week of May 2022, Michael was on site in Grant-Valkaria, FL to demonstrate how drones will be used preemptively for the hurricane season by examining powerlines and transmitters. Michael explained that FPL plans to run 200-400 drone flights throughout Florida weekly to ensure that the power grid is in the right condition to withstand the coming hurricane season. A week later, more than 3,500 FPL employees participated in an annual hurricane simulation in Panama City, FL. During the simulation, FPL employees were tasked with everything from responding to customer calls, clearing debris, testing service, and of course using drones for emergency response.
Every year Florida is battered by hurricanes. It has been 30 years since the devastation Florida faced from Hurricane Andrew, and 5 years since Hurricane Irma. “FPL learns from every storm, and the milestone anniversaries of Andrew and Irma remind us that we must always look for innovative ways to approach how we restore power and serve our customers,” said Manny Miranda, Executive Vice President of FPL power delivery. “Today, we can respond to hurricanes better than ever as a result of the lessons we’ve learned from previous storms and the improvements we’ve made, using advanced technologies and the experience of our team.” And though FPL is doing everything they can to prepare for this year’s storm cycle, FPL CEO Eric Silagy said Floridians can’t only rely on technology to keep them safe. “It’s important to remember that no system is hurricane proof,” Eric said. “That’s why it’s critical that all Floridians – regardless of whether they’ve experienced a storm – ensure they have a plan in place. The actions all of us take today – before a hurricane is on approach to Florida – will make a meaningful difference in how we recover as a state.”