Pacific Gas and Electric’s strategic use of drone technology to revamp image

December 7, 2023

Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), the California-based utility company, has taken a novel approach to restore its reputation, which has been marred by its association with several deadly wildfires.

In a strategic move, PG&E is employing drone technology to demonstrate its commitment to safety and efficiency.

PG&E’s drone technology showcase

A significant event was recently held at PG&E’s San Ramon facility, showcasing its vast and sophisticated drone fleet, claimed to be one of the largest and most advanced for infrastructure inspections.

This event marked a public relations initiative to highlight PG&E’s efforts in making its operations safer and more efficient, thereby moving away from its past associations with catastrophic wildfires​​.

Collaboration and innovation at PG&E’s event

The event was notable for its gathering of hundreds of certified drone pilots, industry experts, community partners, and federal stakeholders.

It featured discussions and exhibitions of PG&E’s drone activities.

Notably, the utility collaborated with hardware manufacturer Skydio and Infravision, a startup assisting PG&E in using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for stringing powerlines, a pioneering effort in North America​​.

Early adoption and advancement in drone operations

PG&E has been an early adopter of UAVs, using them for infrastructure inspections since 2015.

The utility significantly enhanced its drone operations from 2020, thanks to improved technology and automated capabilities provided by Skydio.

This advancement enabled PG&E to become the first utility in California to conduct fully remote drone operations for electric system surveys​​.

Proactive approach to infrastructure management

PG&E’s use of drones is not just a demonstration of technology but also an effort to proactively manage its infrastructure.

The drones enable precise and effective aerial inspections, allowing the utility to identify potential infrastructure issues before they escalate into larger problems.

This proactive approach is a key part of PG&E’s strategy to prevent the types of fires that have previously damaged its reputation​​.

Impact on wildfire prevention and safety

According to Jason Regan, PG&E’s Vice President of System Inspections, the company operates one of the world’s most advanced drone-based equipment inspection programs.

This initiative is central to PG&E’s commitment to halting catastrophic wildfires.

The 2023 UAS conference, a first-of-its-kind event, was designed to provide drone pilots with insights into new technologies and best practices for safely integrating drones into the energy industry​​.

Infravision’s innovative drone system

A highlight of PG&E’s event was the showcase of Infravision’s TX drone system for stringing powerlines, which has been used over 20 times since PG&E started collaborating with the Texas-based startup in 2022.

This method offers a safer, more sustainable, and cost-effective alternative for replacing damaged lines and restoring electricity, especially in challenging post-storm conditions or in urban environments where traditional methods are less feasible​​.

FSJA Comment

PG&E’s strategic use of drone technology is a significant step in reshaping its public image and operational efficiency.

By leveraging advanced UAVs, the utility is not only enhancing its capacity for proactive infrastructure management but also actively contributing to wildfire prevention and safety.

This approach reflects a broader trend in the utility sector, where innovative technologies are increasingly being deployed for more efficient and safer operations.

PG&E’s initiative serves as a model for other utilities aiming to improve their safety standards and public perception.

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