Guam Power Authority taps drones to digitally map infrastructure

Data gathered under a pilot project utilizing drone technology to digitally map Guam Power Authority’s power lines, poles and other line hardware data will help GPA with maintenance forecasting, deployment of manpower and equipment.

In late March, GPA’s engineering staff embarked on the pilot project to map out Guam’s island wide power system utilizing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). GPA selected two feeders in northern and southern Guam, which represent common geographic features such as topography, highways, roads and densely populated areas for the pilot project.

GPA chose Drone Optics, a Guam-based company, to assist with the pilot project.

GPA provided details about the project in response to a set of questions submitted by Public Power Daily.

The primary objective is to capture high definition, geographically referenced photography and video of the feeder assets for use in GPA’s Geographic Information System (GIS). High definition cameras were utilized to capture GPA’s electrical assets in the field. The drone photos were taken with digital geographic positions embedded in the image for georeference processing.

GPA notes that the oblique (aerial) imagery captures the foot of the pole to the top and allows end users to view the electrical assets in a unique perspective that cannot be captured from the ground.

In addition, thermal imagery was captured with different color palettes to determine the heat signature from the electrical assets. The current technology utilizes Forward-Looking Infrared Radar cameras affixed to the UAV and can provide imagery of potential problems before they occur.

GPA said that the data gathered will help with maintenance forecasting, deployment of manpower and equipment, as well as provide useful thermal imaging for prioritization of line maintenance efforts.

The UAV provides new capability to collect aerial imagery for construction, asset management and electrical asset inspections.

Also, the mobile capability of the UAV can provide near real-time photo and video of assets for planning, emergency response, disaster recovery or other field capabilities that require visual inspection. This technology will assist operations to identify issues before equipment fails and customers are subjected to power outages. Regular infrared radar analysis will be a major advantage to maintaining customer power reliability and quality, GPA said.

Drone Optics recently completed digital mapping of power lines in the village of Yigo.

Two additional feeders in Merizo and Umatac, located in southern Guam where rolling hills and multiple line configurations on poles exist, are currently being digitally mapped. Along with being the furthest feeders from GPA’s transmission and distribution operations center, the unique challenges such as topography and heavy vegetation provides GPA the opportunity to weigh the benefits of dispatching the UAV versus a line crew and bucket truck for a typical line inspection.

GPA’s GIS team is now processing the imagery for consumption in GIS. GPA’s GIS analysts will add the images into the GPA GIS internet application, so that end-users can view georeferenced imagery for these feeders through ArcGIS Pro oriented imagery. The product is similar to Google’s Street View and will provide more current imagery and fill gaps not covered in Google Street View. 

Drone Optics has since completed the contract work for the pilot project. Part of the scope of work in the pilot project required Drone Optics to provide GPA with information including the amount of time required to plan, deploy, capture, edit and process the imagery per feeder.

GPA said it will review the data received to determine the feasibility to proceed and outsource further drone projects or perform the task in-house.

“GPA continues to pursue and use technological advances, such as the use of unmanned aerial vehicle technology, to constantly improve reliability,” said John M. Benavente, P.E., General Manager of GPA.

“In a system such as ours, which is subjected to severe corrosive environments and continuous vegetation management issues, we needed to embrace technologies that help us identify potential reliability issues in order to address them as quickly as possible for the benefit of our customers,” he said.

Along with his role as general manager for GPA, Benavente serves on the board of directors of the American Public Power Association.