Trimming the vegetation challenge
The issues that surround vegetation management (VM) have been around as long as AC power has been delivered – the challenge has always been present. With tens to hundreds of thousands of miles of network to manage for vegetation risks, utilities continue to spend increasing amounts trying to get – and stay – ahead of the challenge.
As the largest part of an overhead line maintenance program, vegetation management budgets continue to increase, as seen in the diagram above. VM budgets are notorious for expanding and contracting over time. Given that additional challenge, how does a utility deliver maximum value from its VM budget, even when it is unpredictable and uncontrollable?
Cycle trim schedules and visual inspections comprise the majority of any traditional utility VM budget. But is it possible to get ahead of the game? A significant driver of system reliability is fall-in tree risk from so-called “trouble trees.” While cycle trimming accounts for the largest share of VM budgets, most of the actual issues result from trouble trees. And therein lies the challenge – how does a utility consistently identify and respond to the current risk of all vegetation, and not just cycle schedules? By developing effective condition assessments that include intrusions, trouble trees, and growth, and by aggregating that condition information through analytics, a utility can make better choices on vegetation risk, reliability impact, scope, and schedule priorities.
When a utility has a clear locational view on the risks and potential impact that vegetation poses to its system, the VM budget can be aligned to prioritize work that addresses the greatest risks to the system.
A better approach to VM begins with a valid understanding of the network as well as the state of the vegetation that surrounds the network. Once that is understood, the probability of outage due to encroachment and trouble trees can be modeled. Combining the probability of failure with the impact of outages based on downstream customers and critical services, a utility can better understand – and proactively address – the risks to their network. When a utility has a clear locational view on the risks and potential impact that vegetation poses to its system, the VM budget can be aligned to prioritize work that addresses the greatest risks to the system. With this approach, a utility can optimize its budget, reduce risk, and efficiently execute the VM plan – regardless of how much budget is available, or how the budget changes within a planning cycle.
Recent technological advances are helping utilities achieve this condition-based risk assessment goal.
- LIDAR and satellite imagery provide macroscopic information about vegetation risks, enabling the user to understand where the issues are, and are not.
- Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) has revolutionized the ability to find dead and failing trees, and to align this information to the species that are most likely to do damage to a utility network.
- Cloud computing enables the computation of comprehensive risk models that can identify different risk levels and the required funding associated with the mitigation of those detailed risks.
- Analytics and Automation have made it possible to assemble this massive amount of data into something that is useable and actionable.
- Real-time applications allow a utility to assign and track detailed prescriptive vegetation plans that will reduce uncertainty for field crews and better align costs to the work completed.
- Lastly, automated change detection can validate the work and ensure that the risk was resolved without requiring field verification.
As a leader in vegetation management solutions, Leidos has developed Vegetation Insight as a tool to help utilities take that next step, with a more targeted and more efficient approach in addressing their specific VM goals. The fundamental objective of Vegetation Insight is to maximize the value of available VM program budgets through an integrated, transparent, and effective VM planning solution. Vegetation Insight integrates inputs from multiple sources to obtain a detailed understanding of vegetation intrusions and trouble trees and then integrates those views into a common risk model that allows users to understand and optimize marginal investment value by:
- Measuring and aggregating condition information to make better choices on risk, impact, scope, and priorities
- Modeling scope against budgets and organizational priorities to provide optimum value and transparency
- Defining specific field work plans for vegetation removal companies that make it easier for them to bid, and more efficient and economical to execute the work in the field
- Providing integrated work monitoring, tracking, reporting, and validation that updates status and informs future strategy and scope planning work
Is your utility looking for maximum effectiveness in its vegetation management program? Learn more about transformative technologies that drive real value and create a tangible impact to your utility’s safety, reliability, and bottom line. Talk to one of our team members.