WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Taking to the Air to Fix Power Problems

Oct 4, 2017

Ameren Illinois held a demonstration in Galesburg to show how it's starting to use drones to resolve power outages more quickly.

The devices can be flown out to take real-time footage of their surroundings. This method saves time compared to sending out workers through corn fields or water to manually inspect the power poles.

Kyle Maxwell, Superintendent of Electric Operations for Ameren Illinois, said the company used a drone in Beardstown this year when utility lines that run through a swamp were not putting out power.

He said the drone helped the utility locate the problem within 15 minutes and customers had their power restored in one hour. Maxwell said without a drone, it probably would have taken a crew 4-5 hours of navigating back and forth through the swamp by boat to investigate the problem and find the necessary tools.

Kyle Maxwell flies a drone at Ameren Illinois’s demonstration in Galesburg on September 28, 2017.
Credit Miranda Corbett

Maxwell said flying the drone is simple and that the technology is constantly improving. “Sorta like the iPhone, every time there’s a new firmware update, there’s something new that this machine will do,” he said.

Maxwell said drones are used by 18 of Ameren Illinois’ locations and there are plans to expand the program.

“We have 43 operating centers around Illinois and we’d like to see a drone in every single one of them,” he said.

The company hopes the drones will quicken power restoration as well as make it safer for Ameren employees who are working to restore power.