“If done well, an efficient and accurately informed vegetation management program can save a utility a large amount of money and improve network reliability through more accurately identified true vegetation hazards and reduced numbers, if any, of false vegetation hazards,” explains Sophie Davison, Vegetation Products Manager at NM Group in UK. On the contrary, the consequences of poor vegetation management can get costly. Sophie continues: “Inefficiency or using inaccurate data can lead to outages, regulatory fines, increased management costs and, in the worst cases, vegetation related fires and associated lawsuits.”
Sophie has been one of the key people in bringing together academic research and the vegetation analysis capabilities provided by NM Group. Starting in 2015, she participated in a two-year collaboration program between NM Group and Durham University, named the Knowledge Transfer Partnership or KTP program. “The project intended to build on NM Group’s existing core services to improve vegetation modeling and analysis capabilities and facilitate the transfer of years of experience and research from the academic environment into the commercial environment. Often, universities and industry are working on innovative research independently. Bringing the two together can help realize a greater research impact and pass these benefits on to the utilities,” Sophie reflects.
“Prioritizing vegetation management areas significantly reduces risk with the lowest financial outlay.”
But the KTP project was more than just exchanging information. Sophie continues: “The project also delved into a whole range of state-of-the-art technologies and techniques, such as using rapid return satellites and change detection techniques to quickly pinpoint tree-fall events and cluster analysis methods for individual tree detection.” In addition, taking along some of NM Group’s key customers in the UK, USA and Australia added to the value of the project tremendously. “We wanted to test out the methodologies and analytics developed in as many different environments as possible to make sure they remained accurate and relevant to the varying regulatory and safety drivers,” Sophie concludes, adding that there are publications in preparation around the project for those interested to know more.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Traditionally, vegetation inspections have involved arborists walking or flying the line corridors, examining the distance between the vegetation and the power lines, and recording the data manually, often with portable devices and GPS locations. The concern, however, would be the data accuracy. “The costs in precision and accuracy when in the field limit the use of the information back in the office and can lead to misinformed vegetation management programs,” Sophie points out.
“One of the immediate advantages,” Sophie continues, “are the lack of false positives and negatives and the ability to assess all vegetation surrounding the power line, something which often is beyond field analysis due to the volume of vegetation. Additionally, through further analysis and synthesis with other data sources such as multispectral satellite imagery or historical meteorological data, we can generate models of vegetation structure, hypothesize growth rates and identify patterns in branch failure and tree fall. The advantage of working in the field is identifying key indications which could lead to tree or branch failure, but remote sensing methodologies are making leaps and bounds in this respect. Data collection and analysis timescales can be fast in comparison to manual inspection and the additional analytics can be used to prioritize vegetation management areas, significantly reducing risk with the lowest financial outlay.”
Video by NM Group: The KTP collaboration project between NM Group and Durham University
“Through the KTP project and some really hard work and further development from the NM Group team, we have the ability to accurately pinpoint vegetation capable of falling or growing into a powerline in compliance with a wide range of vegetation management regulations using LiDAR data,” Sophie summarizes. “We have incorporated academic rigor into our vegetation analysis products allowing us to, for example, provide the volume and health of hazardous vegetation and analytically assign outage risk to these. Developments such as these allow our customer utilities to undertake more accurate vegetation management activities with increased capabilities for the planning and audit of the work. This inevitably reduces the cost and risk associated with vegetation hazards to the power line and increases the resilience of the power supply.”
Well now, what a way to combine academic research to something extremely cool that, on top, is beneficial to so many! I believe there are many with me who can’t wait to get their hands on those papers to be published - not to mention, to see what future projects will bring us.
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A Trimblean for 10+ years with a never-ending hunger for knowledge from a less technical viewpoint to the most technical of matters.