Advances in GIS and IT Platforms Providing More Effective Vegetation Management Solutions for Utility Companies

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  • Apr 19, 2021

Vegetation management at electric utilities is a critical component in reducing power outages, mitigating wildfire risks and saving lives. In recent years, with changing climates and increased reliance of our society on the electric grid, the IT sector has evolved to provide more streamlined software solutions helping utilities execute efficient and effective vegetation management operations. With significant advances in GIS software, rapid collection/processing of remote sensing data, and increased capability of mobile platforms, the utility industry is adapting and employing these technologies to provide higher efficiency and accuracy in mitigating vegetation encroachment risks.

Traditional Vegetation Management Practices

Utilities have traditionally employed a collection of software packages and several integrations to support the full scope of activities required to execute vegetation management. Providing the capability to collect vegetation hazard incidents, schedule/mange work, dispatch tree crews, invoice completed work, and accurate reporting traditionally has required multiple software packages and custom integrations that must be maintained. These practices have led to blending of multiple software packages where dissimilar data from varying models is constantly translated or moved between systems via human input, extract, or system integrations. This environment commonly creates reduced reliability, latency in data input or synchronization, and increased cost of ownership over time.  

Advantages of GIS Driven Vegetation Management

With climate change factors increasing the occurrence of severe weather or wildfire events and tighter regulations being imposed by many Public Utility Commissions, utility companies are facing increasing pressure to enhance reliability, reduce latency, and upgrade their ability to accurately detect, mitigate, and report dangerous vegetation encroachment incidents. Historically, GIS has had a small part of the vegetation management landscape providing mapping, geo-location, and visualization. However, in recent years advances in GIS software are allowing GIS systems to provide:

  • A more consolidated solution approach to delivering vegetation management systems 
  • Better capability for real-time, active integrations between systems
  • More adaptable to cloud based or hybrid solutions allowing for a more integrated solutions with vegetation maintenance contractors
  • Increased adoption of mobile devices/platforms allowing for higher populations of incident collectors and more opportunities for reporting

Consolidation and Built-In Analytical Dashboards

Several GIS packages offer more of the key capabilities within a single, coordinated software solution.  Esri’s ArcGIS Workforce and UDC’s Compliance Manager are pulling together field collection, work scheduling/management, and dispatching. In addition, these packages also offer dashboard components providing real-time status reporting and predictive risk analysis that can be configured for access and viewing by public utility commissions, management, supervisors, field supervisors or even arborists.

Example of a real-time status reporting dashboard using UDC’s DyAN application built on ArcGIS
Active Integrations and Event Driven Messaging, Real-Time Reporting

Web, mobile and desktop solutions within many GIS systems now support the same protocols. This is allowing single services controlling reported incidents or scheduled work to be consumed by all three platforms. Data is stored in a single location eliminating the need of scheduling maintenance tasks to move records or attributes between multiple data systems. Less translations and components involved in maintaining the state of your data will increase the reliability and currency of your content. Event driven capabilities have increased in recent years reducing latency of reporting or processing detected incidents. Esri’s implementation of web hooks within hosted feature layers and within field applications such as Survey123 allow for instantaneous alerting of detected/collected incidents in the field. These capabilities reduce latency observed in many multi-component solutions executing data transfers running on task schedulers or processing queues.

Cloud/Hybrid Solutions Support Better Status Reporting and Increased Reporting
More utilities are hosting services in the cloud or hybrid solutions. Vegetation contractors no longer need direct access to a utility company’s network to participate in updating work statuses on reported incidents.  Deploying a cloud based and hybrid solutions where spatial data and services can be more widely accessed by a larger audience reduces latency in reporting work statuses, work completion dates, and increases the volume of vegetation workers detecting and reporting potential vegetation encroachment hazards.

Rapid Collection and Processing of Remotely Sensed Data - Data Driven Detection
Cost and frequency of remotely collected LiDAR and true color imagery has significantly reduced in recent years. This provides opportunities for enhanced monitoring and reducing risks that areas with encroaching vegetation are missed. In addition, frequent collections, rapid processing of remote collected data, and enhanced auto-detection capabilities reduces hazard identification to intervention timelines. With increased collection rates and ability to process collected data to detect potential hazards, supports faster response and more targeted inspection operations for high priority risk areas.

Advanced Mobile Solutions Increase Field Reporting to Larger Population

Traditionally, utilities have had targeted adoption of mobile solutions. As mobile devices become more integrated within business workflows as part of increased adoption by utility companies, utilities are streamlining their field operations with field apps that have built-in work management tools. Inspections or tasks can be assigned by back-office staff using desktop or web components that are immediately available to field staff or subcontractors using mobile phones or devices. Information is collected digitally and transmitted to the back-office to help ensure traceable, verifiable and complete remediation.

Consolidated GIS Platforms and Improved Hazard Detection  

Improving Vegetation Management Operations

Public safety, cost of maintaining multi-software solutions, and Public Utility Commissions enforcing smaller time windows to resolve high-priority vegetation hazards are driving many organizations to implement more streamlined, efficient, and reliable vegetation management systems. The emergence of consolidated and enhanced GIS systems and solutions are providing utility companies with options to meet these demands.

Use of consolidated GIS platforms providing streamlined capabilities that incorporate field work, work management, dispatching, reporting, and predictive analyses as a single, coordinated solution are improving reliability and reducing the need for costly custom, multisystem integrations. Increased capabilities of GIS compatible technologies to auto-detect potential hazards through rapid collection and processing of remote sensing data are improving the efficiency and speed of detecting, mitigating, and reporting of vegetation management operations.

Connect with Ben and UDC to learn more about GIS driven end-to-end vegetation management and reporting. We can also explore with you the ability to feed detailed vegetation management activities into broader enterprise GIS applications for interruption reliability reporting and reliability engineering analysis that can allow your utility to move from periodic preventative maintenance to condition-based maintenance, reliability centered maintenance and forecasted failures-based maintenance paradigms depending on the class of assets.

Original Post by Ben Dwinal, Solution Architect, UDC

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Vijaylaxmi Sharma's picture
Vijaylaxmi Sharma on Apr 27, 2021

Thank you for sharing this. Disclosure: I work with LiveEO, a satellite-based Infrastructure monitoring platform for different sectors. There are other advanced satellite analytics capabilities linked to GIS/IT Solutions delivering condition-based vegetation management solutions. We recently published the entire US Power transmission network along with use cases of large European utilities working with LiveEO's solution. Would love to hear your thoughts on these?

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