Aerial surveys help proactively detect potential problems
From lighting homes to powering major factories, the region’s electric transmission system energizes our economy and virtually every aspect of daily life.
National Grid’s electric transmission system spans roughly 3,000 miles in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Vermont. The company works continuously to maintain the reliability of this system that serves its 1.7 million electricity customers in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, as well as more than 60 other interconnected electric utilities and power producers in New England.
Beginning this week and over the next several weeks, National Grid will conduct helicopter patrols of its entire New England transmission network to identify any potential problems so they can be addressed before they impact service for customers. These aerial patrols, conducted semi-annually, enable National Grid to quickly and efficiently cover large swaths of the transmission system, especially across rugged and isolated terrain.
“Customers depend on the transmission system 24/7 to connect them to the power they need, so we take great care to keep the system operating safely and reliably,” said Brian Gemmell, National Grid vice president, Transmission Asset Management and Planning. “The helicopter patrols are an important component of our overall inspection and maintenance program because they give us a birds-eye view of the system.”
Two types of helicopter inspections are conducted:
- Infrared inspections detect any excess heat emanating from electrical connectors and components that may indicate wear, corrosion, or fatigue.
- Visual inspections are also performed by experienced personnel using high-power gyroscopic binoculars to pinpoint any signs of wear on power lines and lightning protection devices; damaged or leaning transmission structures; loose or broken guy wires; broken, chipped or cracked insulator equipment; and trees leaning toward the lines or into the transmission corridors.
The inspectors also look for signs of waste disposal or unauthorized construction on transmission corridors. These could alter the clearance between the ground and the power lines and might lead to human contact with the lines that could result in severe injuries, or vegetation interference that could lead to power outages. Inspectors will also look for signs of ground erosion, which may cause the transmission structures to become unstable.
National Grid notifies all appropriate local, state and federal agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security, and state and local police that the patrols will be taking place. Flight schedules and routes may be changed on short notice due to regional weather conditions.
Over the past several decades, National Grid has been investing in major projects to create a reliable transmission grid to serve customers and communities across New England. These include the NEEWS suite of projects, which increased east-west power flows across New England; and the Greater Boston and New Hampshire Solution, which will enhance the reliability of the transmission grid in southern New Hampshire and Greater Boston.
As National Grid looks to the future, the company is focused on continuing to meet evolving customer needs and developing a highly intelligent, flexible, and resilient transmission system that will enable the clean energy future by adapting in real-time as more and more variable, remote, and distributed energy sources are connected to the grid – and do so while keeping costs affordable for customers.