NYPA Press Release

First Ever Drone Inspection of Niagara Ice Boom

Drone Provides Aerial View; Identifies Issues and Expedites Repairs in More Environmentally Friendly, Cost-Effective Way

Lynne Smith
(914) 681-6916

January 27, 2017


WHITE PLAINS—The New York Power Authority (NYPA) has partnered with a Canadian utility on the first-ever inspection by a drone of the ice boom between Lake Erie and the Niagara River in an effort to make repairs that are quicker, safer, less expensive and more environmentally friendly. This drone drill is a technology innovation that is part of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo's Reforming the Energy Vision to ensure a more resilient energy system for all New Yorkers.  

 “Drone technology has so much potential for helping the utility industry monitor assets that need to be maintained in a safer, faster and more cost-effective way,” said Gil C. Quiniones, NYPA president and CEO. “Aerial drones can gather data and images that provide a timely picture of any problems so that repairs can be expedited.”

The test with Ontario Power Generation (OPG), using one of its drones leaving from Fort Erie, Ontario, demonstrated how drones can easily identify any damage to the ice boom, and often the nature of that damage. The drones perform a task previously performed by helicopter or boat.

The Lake Erie-Niagara River ice boom, a series of floating steel pontoons connected by steel cables, is installed each winter at the Niagara River mouth to reduce the amount of ice entering the river that can cause ice build-up at the hydroelectric water intakes that affect the hydropower stations operated by NYPA and OPG. The ice boom is jointly owned by NYPA and OPG, and is installed each winter under guidelines established by the International Niagara Board of Control and the International Joint Commission.  

OPG deployed an Aeryon SkyRanger unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone, to fly over the ice boom for about 20 minutes while videotaping a section that appeared to be damaged. The on-land drone operator was able to determine that a span cable had broken between two pontoons and that the cable needed splicing repairs.

The joint exercise is one of the latest developments in NYPA’s continuing efforts to research and fine tune the requirements for its own drone inspection program. NYPA has been assessing the capability of different drones and will go out to bid for drone purchases this spring.

Drones could be used for inspection of power lines as an alternative to helicopters and also to avoid inspectors having to climb the lines and potentially put themselves in danger. The devices could also inspect dams, do post-storm assessments, view encroachment by trees and vegetation under power lines, and perhaps even be used to secure safety cables for workers climbing towers.

At present, the Niagara ice boom is monitored by shoreline cameras and ice breakers are dispatched to go out and make any needed repairs. However, workers don’t usually know the problem or what equipment is needed until they arrive at the location. Using an unmanned aerial vehicle provides the opportunity for inspections to occur remotely so that repairs can be performed more efficiently.

Alan Ettlinger, NYPA’s research, technology development and innovation director who took part in the test, noted that a drone is a more cost-effective and efficient way to maintain the boom. It can cost $3,500 for a helicopter or $3,300 to send a crew of four for a full-day inspection by boat. Once the drone is purchased, the only cost is labor – less than $300 a trip.

“A drone can fly out and send back footage of the cables and pontoons for close-up inspection at an on-land site,” Ettlinger said. “We can spot any damaged components, and determine what needs to be fixed and what parts should be loaded on the repair vessel before we set out.”

The $75,000 drone used for the test, with its 39-inch wing span and choice of three attaching cameras, comes with an all-weather tablet computer that projects high-resolution images from the site as well as tracking information about the device.

Peter Kowalski, operating manager for Niagara River Control Center, said inspection by drone is safer and allows the utilities to inspect the ice boom especially where waves and water levels are dangerous or near ice floes because the drone does not have to land.

“Collecting all the information up front using a drone allows us to take out only the equipment that is needed and be able to mobilize faster,” Kowalski said.


About NYPA:
NYPA is the nation's largest state public power organization, through the operation of its 16 generating facilities and more than 1,400 circuit-miles of transmission lines. NYPA uses no tax money or state credit. It finances its operations through the sale of bonds and revenues earned in large part through sales of electricity. More than 70 percent of the electricity NYPA produces is clean renewable hydropower. Follow @NYPAenergy on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, WordPress, YouTube, and LinkedIn.

About Reforming the Energy Vision

Reforming the Energy Vision is Governor Andrew M. Cuomo's strategy to lead on climate change and grow New York's economy. REV is building a cleaner, more resilient and affordable energy system for all New Yorkers by stimulating investment in clean technologies like solar, wind, and energy efficiency and generating 50 percent of the state's electricity needs from renewable energy by 2030. Already, REV has driven 730 percent growth in the statewide solar market, enabled over 105,000 low-income households to permanently cut their energy bills with energy efficiency, and created thousands of jobs in manufacturing, engineering, and other clean tech sectors. REV is ensuring New York reduces statewide greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030 and achieves the internationally recognized target of reducing emissions 80 percent by 2050. To learn more about REV, including the Governor's $5 billion investment in clean energy technology and innovation, visit www.ny.gov/REV4NY and follow us at @Rev4NY.