ComEd tests drones for vegetation management near power lines

ComEd, the utility that powers the lives of more than 4 million customers in Northern Illinois (70% of the state’s population), has begun using drones for nearby vegetation management power lines.

A unit of Chicago-based Exelon Corporation ComEd says its drone pilot program began nearly a month ago when a spraying drone delivered herbicide to two acres of right-of-way in Forest View, Wash. Illinois. This test site is in an industrial area full of tall, dense vegetation including buckthorn, box elderberry and mulberry trees. If vegetation had grown over nearby power lines, it could have caused outages or service interruptions in the area.

The drone deployment process took approximately 45 minutes, during which 0.75 gallons of herbicide were sprayed precisely where needed using GPS coordinates. By contrast, says ComEd, manual workers would have taken about two days and 8 gallons of herbicide solution to complete the job.

Essentially, the drone delivered a fine mist of herbicide to the target field, providing more consistent and controlled coverage than ground-level spraying.

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The company says it waited until now to talk about this innovative program because it first wanted to verify the effectiveness of drone vegetation management. And now an inspection of the area has indicated that the deployment of the herbicide by drone has been a success.

The utility’s immediate plan is to refine and roll out this program to other areas, so it can more safely and effectively eliminate or maintain overgrowth.

Michelle Blaise, Senior Vice President of Technical Services at ComEd, says:

ComEd is the first utility in the Midwest to use drones in its vegetation management program to more effectively and safely mitigate the threat of power outages from plant growth or overgrowth around our power lines .

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