Gulf Power to use drone technology

Nathan Cobb
Walton Sun

PANAMA CITY BEACH — Gulf Power has taken to the sky in hopes of preventing power outages before they happen.

The regional utility company is slated to officially begin a drone-inspection program the last week in February.

The system, which will use drones equipped with both infrared and regular cameras, will service feeder lines from Panama City to Pensacola.

“It’s going to be safer, it’s going to be more efficient and it’s going to reduce the number of outages,” said Gulf Power spokesman Gordon Paulus.

He said Gulf Power’s sister company, Florida Power & Light, has been using drone technology for a couple years in South Florida.

“We’re using their expertise to use these processes as well for our system,” said Paulus, who added that drones can “point out potential problems (engineers can’t) see (with) the naked eye.”

According to Paulus, temperatures increase within utility poles whenever there’s a crack in the system. He said this can lead to power outages and is one of the things drones will be able to detect.

“We can go and replace it before it breaks and knocks out the power,” he said.

The program will run until June 1, the start of hurricane season, and then resume when it’s over Nov. 30.

The drones will also help Gulf Power with its storm-hardening program, which converts electrical equipment from wood to concrete poles.

In the future, the gadgets will also be equipped with image recognition that will allow crews to immediately detect issues, Paulus said.

“This is just another way to improve reliability, get the power back on faster and have fewer outages,” he added.