In 2014, Time magazine reported on the 2013 rankings of America’s most dangerous jobs. Electrical power line installers and repairers suffered 27 fatalities per 100,000 workers, making these the 7th most dangerous jobs in the country. While fatalities are down from around 30 to 50 annually in past years, according to T&D World magazine, the fatality rate is more than twice that of police officers and fireman. Fortunately, new technologies are expected to reduce these deaths in the coming years.
The most common cause of death to linemen is live, energized wires. T&D World also reports that new technologies used to maintain, repair, and rebuild lines and transmission equipment are now being developed and deployed. These technologies include a range of robotic devices that are designed to minimize risk to field employees while at the same time reducing operational costs and maintaining or improving transmission and distribution system reliability.
With the speed of technical development and advances in artificial intelligence, new applications and technologies are certain to emerge in future years. For now, robotic grid technologies fall into three categories:
- Line-suspended robots: Deployed over the last 8 years, these devices are designed to perform visual inspections and maintenance functions previously completed by utility linemen under sometimes dangerous conditions. They use cameras and specialized sensors for inspections, and can make basic repairs and adjustments to transmission lines, as well as other necessary applications. These robots can travel over and across live transmission system conductor lines under most conditions. Hydro Quebec has developed a line-suspended robotic device called LineScout that is being deployed on power lines where it has the capacity to cross obstacles. Another robotic device called LineROVer is used by the utility as a remotely operated vehicle for work on live overhead lines.
- Ground-based robots: Designed to manipulate energized conductors remotely and execute tasks that are far too dangerous for linemen, these technologies have been in use for more than 10 years and are increasingly able to handle large, heavy conductors. These machines are best at tasks like maintenance, upgrades, and construction of transmission lines, performing jobs such as replacing structures and conductors and changing insulation.
- Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs): Often called drones, UAVs are designed for visual inspections of transmission line components, right-of-way (ROW) conditions, vegetation under the ROW, access into structures, landslides near structure footings, and other unusual conditions. You can read more about drones in my previous Navigant Research blog.
The spreading use of robotics could improve grid operations and, more importantly, reduce the danger to electrical power line installers and repairers. If that happens, linemen will soon drop out of the top 10 rankings of dangerous jobs.