Team to use new drone tech to inspect corona discharge

Innovative Approach to Corona Detection is First of its Kind, Worldwide

Drone technology is nothing new – these unmanned aircrafts are sold commercially in every shape and size around the world. The application of this technology has, however, varied over the past decade with advancements in both telecommunications and automation. A fresh approach and look at how drones can be used to solve business problems has led to a rapid and fundamental change in the way businesses operate and serve their customers. 

Thanks to the support of state regulators and the Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC), SDG&E is taking an innovative approach to unmanned flight and how we can more safely and reliably serve our customers. SDG&E was one of the first organizations worldwide to affix state-of-the-art corona detection technology to an unmanned aircraft. This new approach is the first of its kind, improving worker safety and power system reliability. 

New technology takes flight in San Diego

Over the past year, the Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Operations team has successfully completed multiple test flights with a special detection technology known as a corona camera. A corona camera is capable of visually capturing a naturally occurring corona, an electric discharge that appears when specific particles in the air encounter a high electric field like those found on conductors and transmission wires. The interaction between the particles and electric field creates an acid that can corrode metal and compromise insulation, and produces UV emissions that only a corona camera can detect. 

The acid created by corona discharge can impact the power grid or, in some cases, cause outages. It is critically important that we detect these occurrences quickly and conduct preventive maintenance to ensure a safe and reliable system.

Corona camera plus drone could reduce potential power outages in remote areas

Spotting corona discharges more quickly, using the drone, leads to greater benefits for our customers and workers. The new technological application allows the team to document system abnormalities more efficiently, advance disaster response times and reporting, and improve worker safety. 

Prior to the deployment of the drone, our team would have to traverse difficult terrain and use hand-held or vehicle-mounted cameras to inspect power grid infrastructure in remote areas. This maintenance takes time, which can delay power restoration for customers. Now, with the advent of the camera-mounted drone, we can more swiftly patrol our infrastructure and enact proactive maintenance measures. 

The program and test flights were made possible through EPIC, a state-regulated program that assists in the development and pre-commercial demonstration of new and emerging clean technologies in California that provide benefits to electricity ratepayers. To learn more about the program or its three investment areas, please visit our EPIC webpage at