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Your Top 5 Critical Decisions Before Wildfire Season

Avista talks with AiDash in a T&D World webinar 

Our fear of fire goes back to the dawn of time. And our skepticism of the unfamiliar goes almost as far. Oddly, new advances in satellite imagery and artificial intelligence are our best defenses against our old enemy, fire. It’s our best defense against the wildfires sparked by transmission and distribution lines — that disrupt service to millions, and tragically cost some their very lives.  

 

Some are already using satellite technology with real benefits. Avista Utilities, an energy company in the northwestern United States, is taking advantage of satellites today. Avista’s Wildfire Resiliency Plan Manager, David James, and I talked about wildfires and satellites in a recent webinar, which I've summarized here.

 

Like most electric utilities, Avista has used traditional approaches to wildfire mitigation and is concerned about the increasing risk of wildfires. They’ve taken a proactive look at the emerging technologies that promise to improve their situational awareness of their network. Spoiler alert: Avista has moved forward with satellites and already found success with them.  

 

But is that the right decision for you? Let’s see. These are the top five decisions you need to make for your own network: 

 

1. How will you improve your traditional wildfire mitigation for today’s increasing threats? 

Until recently, many saw wildfires as weather-induced events. It wasn’t until 2018 that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) added their first wildfire specialist to their staff. For decades, utilities could do well enough with vegetation management procedures that didn’t give current and actionable data about their whole networks. Manual and aerial surveys were okay. Cyclical pruning was fine. Views of only portions of their network were adequate.  

WATCH a webinar clip on the limitations of traditional methods.

limitations of traditional methods

 

The fact is: Wildfire risk is expanding. Take the experience of Puget Sound Energy Foundation: From 2013 to 2018, they had only 16 Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) events, which affected 17 circuits and 172 customers. Compare that to just 2019-2020: 35 PSPS events, 3,458 circuits and over 3,000,000 customers. These numbers affect customers, shareholders, and regulators.  

 

In late 2020, S&P Global Ratings lowered the outlook for California’s investor-owned utilities from “stable” to “negative” due to unprecedented wildfire activity. And PG&E’s 2021 Wildfire Mitigation Plan earmarks $13 billion over two years to reduce wildfire risk. More than just trees are affected by wildfires. 

 

WATCH Avista’s David James on the changes he’s seen.

Avista’s David James on the changes

 

Do this now: Compare your current wildfire mitigation plans against the scope and urgency of today’s wildfire threats.  

 

2. How will you get a complete and current view of your network and its threats? 

In our webinar we went through many more examples of the increasing wildfire risk and damage:  

  • Macro challenges like climate change, high fuel densities, and invasive species that increase the probability of ignition 

  • Macro trends like growing areas of wildland urban interface (WUI) 

  • Growing costs of suppression, which increase the risk of wildfires 

Today, no electric utility would debate the importance of taming wildfires and their impact.  

 

The important question right now is, “What do we do?” Warren Buffet famously stated, “Predicting rain doesn’t count; building the ark does.” If we know the risk is increasing, what can we do to mitigate it? Avista saw that there was quite a lot they could do to improve their situational awareness and be ready to act. 

 

A better view of your network lets you make better informed decisions to de-risk. Better data helps you see the choices with the best success. If one tree can cause a $1 billion fire, then what if you could identify each tree with that potential anywhere on your network? Driving lines or sending up airplanes just can’t do it with enough speed or accuracy. It’s impossible. But advancements in technology let you do that — economically. 

 

The innovation curve for satellite images is not what you see on Google Maps. That’s often 2012 technology. Today, we're able to measure with astonishing detail and accuracy across an entire network to help you identify blind spots. 

 

WATCH how satellite images are better than you thought.

satellite images are better than you thought

 

Satellites can also detect far more than the human eye. For example, by looking at “invisible” bands of the spectrum, satellites can perceive chlorophyll concentrations and water density. We analyze that to identify dead trees that might fall onto a line. And we can compare to historical images to identify trends such as slow declines of forest health over years. That’s powerful.  

 

WATCH how satellites see vegetation.

how satellites see vegetation

 

Do this now: See if you can get a view of your entire network. Then see how current it is.  

 

3. Is your current data good enough to bet your company and its reputation on it? 

With vegetation management expense always increasing, the proper tools can help contain costs and help you spend in the right places. Avoiding a single ignition has broad benefits to your company and your communities. AiDash builds a heat map that shows different risk levels across your region. Overlay your grid to see your risk areas, and you can make the best data-driven decisions possible. 

 

WATCH the importance of detailed views to Avista. 

importance of detailed views

 

Do this now: Examine how much detail your vegetation management systems give you. Is it useful? Actionable? 

 

4. Does your wildfire resiliency planning consider all the available tools?  

Avista Utilities serves about 400,000 customers in the United States’ Pacific Northwest with 2,200 miles of transmission circuits and almost 8,000 miles of distribution. 

 

In 2020, Avista published their first wildfire resiliency plan, which called for annual assessments of risk trees and danger trees in their distribution network. That had always been part of their cycle-based trimming, but times had changed, and they wanted proactive wildfire mitigation.  

 

They knew their goals required technology that could scale to the size of their network and the immediacy of their planning. They first examined ground-based LiDAR but saw greater benefit in AiDash’s satellite technology.  

 

WATCH how Avista evaluated AiDash. 

how Avista evaluated AiDash

 

They found the value they needed in AiDash. Now they can make the smart decisions about managing risk and resources. They also found that their workforce’s adoption even exceeded their expectations.  

 

WATCH how Avista reacted to satellite technology.

how Avista reacted to satellite technology

 

Do this now: Find out if your operations and maintenance teams use the right technology to work efficiently and accurately. 

 

5. Do you have all the expertise you need for wildfire season?   

We know that wildfire season will be tougher than usual and effective preparation must happen now. Is your organization ready with cost-effective, modern tools and current experience to deliver power reliably and protect your communities? 

 

Contact us. We have leading wildfire experts who know how to develop the data to support your wildfire mitigation plans.  

 
Do this now: 

  • Watch the whole webinar, with all its insights on these five decisions and more, here

  • Call us today: +1 408-703-1099 or email me at bradley@aidash.com. There’s no time to waste.