Consumers Energy launched an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) near a Jackson County electric substation last month to help determine whether the emerging technology can improve how the company serves Michigan residents.
"We are always looking for ways to innovate and provide Michigan with safe, affordable, reliable, and environmentally sustainable energy," said Mary Palkovich, Consumers Energy's vice president of energy delivery. "We're in the process of using UAV technology on a limited basis and analyzing if it will help improve energy service delivery."
U.S. Sen. Gary Peters serves on the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, which oversees the Federal Aviation Administration, and participated in the launch event.
"I applaud Consumers Energy for seizing the opportunity to explore innovative and efficient ways to serve Michigan residents," Peters said. "In the Senate, I am working with my colleagues to ensure more Michigan businesses can take advantage of the benefits of UAV's so we can integrate these technologies into our airspace in a safe manner."
Consumers Energy is the fourth energy company in the U.S. and the first in Michigan, to receive approval for UAV use from the Federal Aviation Administration. The approval allows UAV assessing in Jackson, Mason and Tuscola counties.
The UAV is being evaluated on its performance at inspecting wind turbines and above-ground utility equipment such as poles and transformers. The technology could also result in quicker service restoration following damaging storms, and reduce the cost and carbon footprint associated with assessment work and power line inspections.
"Twice a year, we use a helicopter to inspect high-voltage power lines," Palkovich said. "Using a UAV in place of a helicopter could tremendously reduce fuel use and emissions, and our neighbors would experience a noise reduction in their environment."
Consumers Energy is committed to operating the UAV safely in full accordance with applicable regulations and the FAA approval, which establishes when, where and how it may be operated.
Consumers Energy, Michigan's largest utility, is the principal subsidiary of CMS Energy (NYSE: CMS), providing natural gas and electricity to 6.6 million of the state's 10 million residents in all 68 Lower Peninsula counties.