The following is an excerpt from an T&D World Electric Utility Operations article.

PEC and IBM required an improved source of imagery for the primary use case of high-precision vegetation encroachment detections. LiDAR Technology was not generally considered as a viable imagery source for this case due to the immense costs incurred over lengthy distances in electric distribution. Time to insight, caused by abnormally long collection and processing times, was also an issue. Most often LiDAR assumes a role in vegetation maintenance when the use cases for engineering can offset the immense investment, as often seen in transmission.

When PEC learned about the option for Geiger-Mode LiDAR, the necessary source of imaging began to emerge. Not only was this form of LiDAR accurate to within a foot, it was also able to be collected rather quickly (compared to traditional forms of LiDAR), and would provide the necessary detection of poles and conductors in addition to managing the physical shape of any form of direction pruning, like V-cuts, L-cuts and even overhang due to some capability with canopy penetration and side-imaging. Commercially speaking, Geiger-Mode LiDAR was offered at a fraction of the cost of traditional LiDAR sources. This new imagery increased the accuracy to greater than 95%. Instead of a two-dimensional image, PEC was able to use a three-dimensional image, enabling pruning contractors with an exact location.

PEC’s investment is already paying off in other business areas. For instance, PEC used the data to calculate the height of certain voltages of conductors above specified bodies of water. Another use case recently completed was for “Last Mile Fiber” allowing the Transmission Control Center to identify specifications on towers fit for hosting fiber and ensure NESC clearances are met without having to deploy personnel to the field.

“Following Winter Storm Uri in February 2021, most Texas utilities began to double or even triple their vegetation maintenance budgets,” said Randy Kruger, PEC chief financial officer. “Having invested early in this technology, PEC is ahead of the curve, and already experiencing a considerable benefit of about $2.5 million per year. We’re pleased in our results and confident our investment will continue to benefit PEC and its members for years to come. Over the next 10 years, we expect the cooperative to save up to $25 million while also improving safety for our lineworkers in the field and reliability for our members.”

Condition-based vegetation insights can help distribution companies better manage their budget and resources to target the highest risk areas in their network. Investments may result in improved reliability, increased cost savings, safer workers and happier customers. Technologies are available today that can help distribution companies start this journey, and PEC has experienced firsthand how investments in this space help customers, employees and the bottom line. The utility that has the best chance to succeed is one that has leadership support to embrace technology, alter workflow processes to accommodate for previously undiscovered intelligence and finds the right technology partner to see the organization through the transformation.

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