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August 24, 2023

Pioneering the Future: Advanced Technology Tackles Vegetation Challenges on the Grid

Utility vegetation management (UVM) has become increasingly important as climate change accelerates plant growth near transmission infrastructure. Encroaching vegetation can lead to faults, which can subsequently cause ignitions, especially in high-risk areas. Enline is pioneering advanced UVM solutions that use AI, LiDAR, and analytics to proactively mitigate vegetation risks and enhance grid resilience.

The Threat of Unchecked Vegetation Growth

Expanding plant life near transmission corridors threatens both reliability and safety. Vegetation is responsible for an estimated 15% of total outages, costing US utilities approximately $150 million annually [1]. Fast-growing trees and shrubs can encroach on rights of way, with branches and stems intruding into live-line spaces. This heightens the risks of:

  • Short circuits and faults due to contact with conductors
  • Broken conductors and tower damage from falling trees
  • Wildfires ignited by sparks and faults

The rapid vegetation growth driven by climate change has amplified these risks. Warmer temperatures and changing precipitation patterns associated with climate change stimulate faster plant growth [2]. Extreme weather events, such as droughts and storms, also weaken trees, making them more susceptible to impacting lines.

With grids operating closer to capacity, transmission operators cannot afford outages caused by vegetation. A proactive approach to UVM is vital to prevent faults, ensure public safety, and avoid expensive blackouts.

Key Challenges in Conventional Vegetation Management

Most utilities employ a regular cycle of vegetation pruning and removal within rights of way. However, traditional UVM strategies face several limitations:

  • Inefficient manual inspections that overlook rapidly growing vegetation
  • Inability to evaluate vegetation health and associated risks
  • Reactive pruning following visual detection, which doesn't prevent encroachment
  • Lack of situational awareness during storms and strong winds
  • Absence of integration with grid topology data for risk-based prioritization

As a result, significant vegetation threats might go unnoticed between occasional inspections. Moreover, without risk analysis, maintenance crews lack the necessary data to prioritize strategically.

Enline’s Vegetation Management Technology

Enline offers an integrated vegetation management solution that addresses these challenges by:

  • Conducting high-resolution aerial monitoring
  • Analyzing vegetation health using advanced analytics
  • Employing AI algorithms to identify encroachments
  • Modeling vegetation growth predictively
  • Conducting risk analysis based on grid assets and topology
  • Monitoring weather conditions in near-real-time during storms

These capabilities enable utilities to identify, analyze, and proactively mitigate vegetation risks across their entire service territory. Here are the four key features:

1. High-Resolution Visibility

Enline satellite imagery to create detailed 3D models of rights of way. By integrating high-resolution optical data, we achieve accurate vegetation mapping at the individual tree level across extensive distances.

The 3D models include:

  • Comprehensive canopy characterization
  • Measurements of tree height and crown dimensions
  • Detailed information on the underlying terrain and ground cover
  • Conductor clearance distances
  • Change detection over time

These high-resolution models serve as a digital twin of the entire right of way, ensuring comprehensive visibility for proactive UVM.

2. Analytics for Vegetation Health & Risk

Using advanced algorithms, Enline evaluates the data and image to determine:

  • Tree species and their characteristics
  • Overall vegetation health and anomalies
  • Encroachments into minimum clearance zones
  • Risk scores based on growth rates, tree conditions, and proximity to conductors

The primary parameters assessed include:

  • Tree lean and fall direction
  • Branch overhang
  • Presence of dead trees and hanging branches
  • Signs of decaying trunks and root diseases
  • Sparse foliage and signs of drought stress

These high-resolution analytics offer actionable insights on the most hazardous vegetation over extensive distances.

3. Predictive Growth Modeling

Utilizing machine learning, Enline models the vegetation's growth over time. By integrating data on tree species, climatic conditions, soil quality, and other factors, the models can:

  • Forecast future encroachments into conductor clearances
  • Identify trees that could become hazards within 1-2 years
  • Enable proactive, risk-based pruning and removals

This predictive analysis ensures vegetation management initiatives preemptively address potential encroachments.

4. Risk Analysis for Prioritization

By overlaying vegetation analytics with grid infrastructure data, Enline facilitates risk-based prioritization. The main risk factors considered include:

  • Proximity to vital transmission assets
  • Co-location with high-risk fire zones
  • Presence of dense vegetation
  • Potential impact and likelihood of vegetation faults

This approach enables vegetation crews to address the highest-risk areas first, based on potential impacts on reliability and safety.

Situational Awareness for Weather Events

Additionally, Enline offers near real-time weather and wind monitoring during storms and high wind conditions. By integrating data from ground-based weather stations and satellites with grid infrastructure analytics, it provides a comprehensive understanding of vegetation risks during adverse weather events. Operators can visualize wind speeds, vegetation movement, and the potential impact on assets in specific zones, informing their response strategies.

Results from Global Deployments

In trial deployments across North America, Asia, and Europe, Enline's vegetation management technology has shown remarkable benefits:

  • A reduction of up to 45% in vegetation-related outages [3]
  • An average tripling of conductor clearances [4]
  • A 20% reduction in vegetation management costs [5]
  • Enhanced worker safety through data-driven insights
  • Minimized ignition risks by proactively addressing hazards

By offering comprehensive visibility, advanced analytics, predictive modeling, and risk-based prioritization, Enline empowers utilities to transition towards risk-based, data-driven vegetation management, promoting reliability, safety, efficiency, and grid resilience.

Looking Ahead

As grids face growing challenges from climate change, Enline's groundbreaking solutions assist utilities in staying ahead of the vegetation threat. By merging high-resolution monitoring, AI-driven analytics, forecast modeling, and risk management, Enline offers actionable insights to address the most pressing vegetation risks across extensive service territories.

With the expansion of grid infrastructure to achieve net zero goals, robust and optimized vegetation management will become even more essential. Enline's technology paves the way for a proactive, predictive approach to UVM, fostering a smarter, safer, and more sustainable grid.

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