Managing vegetation is serious business. Vegetation management has long been an indispensable part of O&M activities for utilities due to its far-reaching implications. In fact, most utility funding and resources are for managing vegetation around distribution lines. Utilities spend millions of dollars each year on vegetation management. According to an article, globally, electric utilities are expected to spend over $13 billion a year on drones and robotics by 2026, a dramatic increase from about $2 billion currently.
Drones and LiDAR have been used so far for such endeavors, but their results were neither satisfactory nor worth the massive effort, time and extensive expenses that went behind. Their biggest disadvantage is that due to the labor-intensive process of collecting the data, the costs are very high; this would typically include aircraft, employment costs and equipment. Another pressing issue is that constant monitoring is not possible and there is a gap between data updates, which can often be anything between 5 to 10 years.
Satellites have completely revolutionized the vegetation management space with proven results. With its groundbreaking technology, they provide the most accurate, weather independent imagery (SAR-equipped satellites can easily penetrate clouds, no matter how bad weather conditions might be). Their geographic coverage wavelength is the entire planet. They can store historical data that can be used whenever necessary and improve ground-based efficiency and targeting, so you only visit the relevant areas, hugely cutting down on costs.
Here’s a quick infographic that depicts what the future of vegetation management holds.