KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Nearly three months after a February ice storm left thousands without power for days, Consumers Energy is hoping to ease the concerns of customers with the help of modern technology.

While drones aren’t new, their use among utility companies, like Consumers Energy, is growing.

“We look for any signs of damage on any of the equipment,” said Matt Henry, who serves as their director of grid modernization. “If there’s a crack in an insulator, a crack in a crossarm — one of the wood poles — any signs that might lead to an outage, we try to find those and fix them before they become an outage and customers lose power.”

Aside from those instances, Henry explained that preventative maintenance is the focus, including tree encroachment. While crews can do the same from a helicopter or a bucket truck, he said the drones save manpower, ensure safety and provide a more detailed view.

“Being able to look from the drone’s perspective down onto the power line is really valuable,” Henry said. “You can start detecting if there is any equipment malfunction, any signs of cracks or breaking and be able to fix it before it becomes an issue.”

It also saves time. According to Consumers, a typical severe weather-related power outage is resolved in half the time using drones compared to conventional means.

Consumers says it spends about $100 million annually on tree trimming and a few tens of thousands of dollars on its drone program.

“We’re doing everything we can to improve our outage response. We understand the challenges that come when customers lose power,” Henry replied. “We’re doing everything we can to automate the grid and be able to respond as quickly as we can to get those lights on as fast as possible. The investments we’re making — we’re really leveraging new technology to be able to do that as quick as we can and as safely as we can.”

Updating the grid, Henry adds, is where the company is “weighing all the alternatives.” That includes undergrounding, which he says would require a “massive effort” from both man and machine.

“It’s not something that you can do, turn around in a day,” Henry explained. “The use of drones will always be important to complement some of that work. There are certain things that, after an outage, you would need to inspect. Whether it is overhead or underground, I think drones could play a part in either scenario.”

*Correction: A previous version of this article conflated Consumers’ annual investment in tree trimming with its investment in drones. The text has been updated. We regret the error.