Line inspections using helicopters cost about $1,500 per mile compared to around $200 per mile with a drone. That nearly 90% reduction presents a compelling business case for utility companies to use drones, while also being able to improve safety by putting fewer lineworkers and helicopter pilots in harm’s way.
But drone sales in the North American utility market are still meager, projected to reach only about $1.5 million in 2019. Yet that number is expected to grow by nearly 18 times – to $26 million – by 2026, as U.S. regulations ease and drone technology improves, according to Michael Hartnack, a research analyst for Navigant Research covering drones and robotics for transmission and distribution operations worldwide. (For Navigant's full market report, visit www.navigantresearch.com/reports/drones-and-robotics-for-transmission-and-distribution-operations.)
These numbers represent hardware sales only and not revenue from ancillary drone services – such as piloting, training, software development, data analytics, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and other support offerings – which will make the overall U.S. utility drone market significantly bigger, Hartnack said.
So, what exactly is the state of drones in the North American utility sector today? What’s holding back widespread adoption of drones? And what are the future possibilities?