Andrew Brown, John Miller, and Kirk Olsen represent the Drones and Robotics in Nuclear Inspections team at Xcel Energy.
PUF's Joe Paparello: Kirk, describe the innovation that led to you and your team winning the Nancy Fitzroy Top Innovator Award for Environment and Safety, and how it's made a positive impact at Xcel and on its customers?
Kirk Olson: Our innovation is our drone robotics program. We saw a need in the nuclear industry to reduce costs and improve safety. Having high safety margins and a great safety program is the first cornerstone of nuclear, and what can be safer than removing people from the equation of the safety hazard?
We've implemented a multitude of drones and robotics to replace people in hazardous environments, have eliminated that safety hazard, and the equipment is relatively low cost compared to the amount of savings. It's been a win-win.
We've used robots in replacement of divers. We've put the spot robot in high radiation areas where we wouldn't have done that before with a person, so we developed new capabilities.
We've done a lot of aerial missions eliminating helicopters or scaffolding. These are high-risk evolutions, and we eliminate that risk completely with aerial drones.
We have several indoor drones also that take care of the same tasks. It's been a good program for eliminating safety hazards — not just slightly improving it — but there's zero risk.