The Grid Optimization Blog

Drones & Balloons: Seen Flying Dangerous Objects

There has been a lot of noise recently about drones, mainly since they have been witnessed flying by the White House, Eiffel tower and other strategic places.

There has been a lot of noise recently about drones, mainly since they have been witnessed flying by the White House, Eiffel tower and other strategic places; there is a very nice video(s) of New York City that has been taken by several drones. Due to recent terrorist attacks, people rightfully consider drones a threat or “SFDO”, or Seen Flying Dangerous Objects.

Before those sad events, the main discussion was about Amazon planning to use drones to deliver packages and the drone that was seeing flying near JFK.

Efforts have been made in the past and are still exerted to protect the electric grid, whether by ensuring reliable generation, transmission and distribution system as well as cyber security. Relay protection is another key group that is responsible for selectively isolating faults when they occur while maintaining continuity of service. No matter how hard relay engineers plan to prevent failures, all it takes is for a balloon to trip a transmission or distribution line; so much damage and loss of revenue is caused by a balloon that costs few cents, if any, and is usually a source of happiness for kids but definitely not for the utility.

Unlike balloons that fly freely with no specific direction, intention or hidden agenda, drones are remotely controlled and could do a lot more damage than unguided balloons.  Not only can drones cause damage by shorting phases of feeders and substation buses, drones have eyes (cameras) that can cause specific planned damage.

In my opinion drones should only be allowed in certain areas, i.e. parks, specified open space, beaches, etc., definitely not close to any electric assets and since utilities cannot openly send the 7 billion humans a list of all of our substations and transmission routes for them to avoid, we should confine drones in specific locations only.

Even if the drone owner has no bad intention, what happens if he/she accidentally makes contact with an electrical asset or lose power or communication to the drone, thus resulting in the drone falling on top of an electric station or line, thus causing a fault or damage to personnel; or the amazon drone hitting the distribution pole just outside the customer’s house accidentally or due to high winds in the area.

You may argue that Google earth or other available electronic maps represent a threat, which I partially agree with; however, the drone threat far outweighs an electronic map or a balloon. Although drone users and manufactures don’t have evil intention or the plan to shutdown parts of the electric grid, we have to plan for those who do have evil intentions and are willing to use such technologies for the wrong cause.

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