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Written by Bhoopathi Rapolu
on 18 Jan 2021

Businesses today operate in a fast-evolving and a hypercompetitive environment. Changing consumer preferences, new revenue models, and demanding regulatory requirements are placing consumer-facing services providers under tremendous pressure. The utility sector is no different. Given this situation, improving the reliability of the assets and reducing the maintenance cost to maintain profitability has become the paramount need for utility players.

One area of operation within a utility company that can give them an edge over others is the effective management of one of the biggest threats they face – monitoring the threats from vegetation. However, despite spending millions of dollars in identifying right of way (ROW) threats, the traditional process of physically inspecting sites is relatively time-consuming and has inherent flaws that reduce the efficacy of this function.

How is technology redefining traditional vegetation management function?

  • Remote monitoring: The most significant advantage that technology offers in the vegetation management program is the ability of utilities to monitor its assets remotely instead of having to visit the sites physically. Processing Imagery and LiDAR data acquired through satellites and UAVs can provide vegetation encroachment insights with location details to save time and manual efforts.
  • Imagery and LiDAR data acquisition and management: The data can be acquired using multiple tools and technologies such as UAVs, fixed/rotary LiDAR, and satellites. Utilities can consolidate all historical and current data from across different sources, and when stored on the cloud, all the data and information can be made available to anyone across the company anywhere it is needed.
  • Advanced technologies for data analysis: While imagery/LiDAR isn’t exactly a new phenomenon, traditional systems struggle to process the data due to their size. Running into terabytes or even petabytes, some of these imagery or LiDAR data can take several months to be processed during which the ground reality may have changed significantly. Using AI and ML technologies, the analysis can be automated and completed within a fraction of the time it used to take.

What are the key characteristics of the next-gen vegetation management solution?

  • Access to the latest information: All businesses rely on access to the latest data for a variety of functions. As data becomes all-pervasive, the challenge for users is to make sense of it on time and to derive actionable intelligence. A technology-based vegetation management solution allows utilities to view the status and condition of their assets without their feet on the ground. This enables them to prioritize asset management activities and be more responsive in situations that could jeopardize the functioning of an asset and prevent or resolve large-scale disasters.
  • On-demand services: Utilities are an inherently on-demand service. Consumers expect a seamless supply of power, gas, or water with near-zero scope for delays or breakdowns. Thus, by default, utilities also need to operate on the same principle, and any lag could lead to loss of business and revenue or imposition of penalties from the regulator. Next-gen vegetation management solution allows utilities to use the solution as and when they need it. Besides offering accurate data, the solution provides scale and flexibility, which allows timely analysis at an enterprise-level. Thus enabling players to be more responsive and agile to consumer or regulatory demands without additional overheads or time delays.

What are the business benefits of advanced vegetation management solution?

  • Improved operational efficiency: New age vegetation management solutions allow utilities to visualize their network corridors in a precise manner. In fact, some of the imagery solutions offer precision up to a centimeter-level. This will enable utilities to focus and streamline their efforts and deploy crews to fix current or future threats. Additionally, an enterprise-wide system brings efficiencies to the process that enhances the overall service reliability of a utility.
  • Reduced maintenance costs: A delay in acquiring relevant data or identifying a potential threat to an asset can increase the maintenance or replacement cost. Using cloud and advanced technologies such as AI and ML allows utilities to automate data processing and issue detection. Besides reducing the time for processing, technology also enables predictive maintenance through intelligent vegetation growth modeling tools, which help reduce maintenance costs.
  • Increased savings: Vegetation management is one of the most critical and resource-intensive functions for a utility. Technology not only eliminates the need for physically visiting sites but also helps save millions of dollars spent on time and labor required for it. According to our estates, automated vegetation management solutions can help utilities save up to USD 1.5 million for every 1,000 km of network, and up to 40% on annual automated assessments of assets.

Conventionally, vegetation management within the utility sector is considered to be a corrective measure and is often treated as a cost center. However, the next generation of solutions in the space is playing an operationally essential and financially significant role. As utility companies continue to keep up with the changing business landscape, technology-based vegetation management solutions are taking center-stage and helping reshape the utility sector for the better.

Geospatial Technology

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