Cameras with Artificial Intelligence Aim to Enhance Electric Service ReliabilityFirstEnergy electric companies lead industry in use of AI technology to inspect equipment
Mounted on an Ohio Edison bucket truck, a smart camera paired with artificial intelligence (AI) silently takes thousands of high-resolution photos in northeast Ohio, identifying and geolocating utility poles. In Pennsylvania, another camera works to identify defects in poles and equipment that may need human attention in Met-Ed’s service area.
These aren’t scenes from the future. FirstEnergy and its electric companies have been exploring such innovations for the past two years with Noteworthy AI, a Connecticut-based firm that provides AI-powered cameras to help utilities evaluate the condition of their equipment.
This fall, FirstEnergy launched its third pilot program with the cameras in Dover, New Jersey, using them to conduct an audit of streetlights in its Jersey Central Power & Light (JCP&L) service area. Such data could help enhance FirstEnergy’s mapping data and its streetlight billing. It could also help ensure that FirstEnergy is reaching municipalities that haven’t yet converted to LED streetlights.
“We’ve seen the potential for some meaningful efficiencies and cost savings powered by artificial intelligence,” says Connor McCluskey, a staff business analyst at FirstEnergy who led the deployment of the first pilot program. “The amount of data that these smart cameras can collect in a short time frame is pretty remarkable.”
The first pilot program was launched in northeast Ohio in 2021. Over 30 days in Akron (Summit County) and Salem (Columbiana County), the smart cameras were mounted on two FirstEnergy bucket trucks and took approximately 5,000 high-resolution photos, identifying and geolocating 1,650 poles. Paired with small computing units inside the truck, the cameras also accurately identified pole-top components, such as insulators and lighting arresters, along with details such as serial numbers and transformer ratings.
A second pilot program followed in 2022, with three camera systems mounted on Met-Ed inspector trucks in Reading and East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. Over six months, the cameras identified more than 25,000 poles and nearly 124,000 components. An AI model worked to detect crossarm damage such as split wood or other deterioration. AI flagged 1,646 cross arms for further inspection, picking up 89% of the defects that human inspectors found in the field.
“We like to think of ourselves as a low-cost, first-pass review, finding the needles in the haystack,” said Christopher Ricciuti, founder and CEO of Noteworthy AI. “It frees up time for field workers to go out and fix the issue before it becomes a problem.”
Lindsay Mathes, a manager with FirstEnergy’s Continuous Improvement team, which has led the second and third pilots, says employees have been energized by the potential of the new technology to help improve reliability and even safety in the future. With a smart camera on board, for example, an inspector no longer has to stop, exit the vehicle and set up a safety zone to take a photo.
While the results from the streetlight pilot are still pending, Mathes says her team is encouraged so far and optimistic that these products could play a role in FirstEnergy’s inspection and maintenance platform on a larger scale in the future.
“These cameras can help us identify reliability concerns based on the real-time condition of our poles and equipment, regardless of their age,” she says. “We’re ahead of the curve with this technology and excited about the benefits it could provide.”
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