One of the largest investor-owned energy companies in the United States is testing drones to inspect inside of the towering boilers that produce steam for some of New York City’s most iconic buildings.
Con Edison partnered with drone technology company Flyability to test the use of unmanned aerial vehicles as a way to reduce the time and cost it takes to inspect the boilers, which are an integral part of the largest district steam system in the world. Con Edison provides steam – a green energy source – to more than 1,600 large customers, including the Empire State Building, Grand Central Terminal, the World Trade Center and other landmark buildings.
The 1.1 pound Flyability drones are protected by a carbon fiber spherical frame, designed for collisions and reduced damage to inspected equipment. The drones use video (1280×1080), camera, and thermal technology to produce images in real time. Con Edison personnel can quickly analyze the data and determine where the company needs to make repairs or perform maintenance.
“Inspecting our boilers requires workers to build up to 10-story scaffolding and go through confined-space training,” said Margarett Jolly, director of Research and Development for Con Edison. “Using innovations in technology, we can speed up the process while still upholding and perhaps improving quality and safety.”
Con Edison is conducting the testing at a steam plant on the East Side of Manhattan near the East River. The boilers are 10-stories high and each produces 1.2 million pounds of steam in an hour. The steam system also produces electricity, helping to keep service reliable for 3.4 million electric customers.