SUMMARY: Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are stimulating innovation, saving money, and providing a safer working environment for energy companies. Drones also allow energy companies to inspect their assets without trespassing on private lands and disturbing landowners.
PROBLEM: Westar Energy has been looking for ways to innovate their operations. Traditional boiler inspections are dangerous and expensive. Inspection power transmission lines typically requires expensive helicopter crews. Dispatching employees in severe weather to investigate power outages can be extremely hazardous.
SOLUTION: In 2013, Westar Energy partnered with Kansas State University's Polytechnic Campus to create an unmanned aircraft systems program. After three years of development and training, the company is finally ready to deploy UAS on the job. The company plans to use the drones for inspecting boilers and transmission lines, as well as traversing difficult terrane to conduct site assessments when needed. “It’s absolutely a cost savings at this point,” said Jason Klenklen, supervisor of transmission maintenance. “Instead of using manned aircraft, we’re using unmanned aircraft.”