Last year, California had its most destructive and deadliest wildfire year on record. Increasingly dry, warm, and windy weather conditions wrought by climate change are a big reason why. But the immediate cause is often power lines: Downed lines that come into contact with nearby trees can create a spark that spreads into bigger fires.
So far, the (very inconvenient) solution has been to just shut off electricity entirely during days with high wind. But a Bay Area company says they have another answer, and it uses the same technology that lets self-driving cars “see” their surroundings.
Quanergy is most well known for building the LiDAR sensors that help power autonomous vehicles. LIDAR works like radar, but with light waves instead of radio waves. These waves bounce back from an object (like a person or another car) to the sensor, determining how far away that object is. That information then creates a 3D map of an autonomous car’s environment. Since this technology is, at its core, a 3D mapping tool, Quanergy says it can also be used to map power lines, potentially helping utility companies inspect their miles and miles of lines for encroaching trees, or finding downed wires before they start ablaze.
The more than 150,000 miles of overhead power lines in California is a lot of ground to cover for human inspectors. Equipped with Quanergy’s tech, drones could inspect all these power lines quicker, produce detailed visual images that show potential fire hazards, and alert utility companies who can act to prevent wildfires from breaking out.
This would also mean that power companies could avoid shutting off power for large areas as a safety precaution. We’re sure Californians would appreciate that.
This story was one of the best from 2019, and we are happy to include it in our “12 Days of Optimism” as we get ready to welcome 2020!