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Vegetation Management from Space

image credit: NASA
Julian Jackson's picture
Staff Writer, Energy Central BrightGreen PR

Julian Jackson is a writer whose interests encompass business and technology, cryptocurrencies, energy and the environment, as well as photography and film. His portfolio is here:...

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A challenge facing utilities is the encroachment of vegetation. Electricity lines and the plant world do not mix well. Vegetation hazards include short-circuiting the electric flow, impeding electric lines, or, at worst, setting off wildfires. Last year a pine tree fell on electrical distribution lines in California, causing a fire that burned a total area of 56,338 acres, destroyed 204 structures, and caused four deaths and numerous lesser injuries.

What are the best ways to inspect the growth of vegetation around infrastructure?

The utility will need to check:

  • The location of vegetation relative to infrastructure

  • Vegetation species growing near infrastructure

  • The growth rates and the dangers posed by these vegetation species

  • Potential movement of power lines and vegetation during winds

  • The sag of electric lines because of elevated temperatures, ice loadings, and other hazards

     

In prior times, this type of monitoring was done manually by people surveying the area. This is costly, time-consuming, and can lead to all kinds of errors.

Today, the use of satellites, as well as drones and aircraft is a big step forward. These platforms gather extremely accurate digital data. Each has different capabilities so together they deliver optimal results.

Satellites can provide high-resolution Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) data which is obtainable under all weather conditions. This makes them the best option for infrastructure monitoring during dangerous conditions such as storms or wildfires, when real-time monitoring is essential to react to the situation.

Environmental satellites including those of NOAA and NASA track global weather and climate. Their data, combined with meteorological information help utilities to predict weather-related vegetation issues.

Helicopters and drones are great for the collection of highly accurate 3D data using light detection and ranging (LiDAR) sensors. They can move closer to the relevant infrastructure and transmit images back to base for further analysis. The use of drones in particular is becoming central to operating a state of the art vegetation monitoring system. These advanced systems will help reduce the outages and damage caused by vegetation as the industry progresses to a more digitally advanced future.

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