Fortune 500 utility reduces risk and costs with AiDash climate tech solution
Company: Fortune 500 Utility
Location: Western United States
Solution: AiDash Intelligent Vegetation Management System (IVMS)
Sample scale: assess 100% of forest stock
Value proposition: Remote sensing reduces risk and costs of wildfire, detects tree health
Validation confidence: deployed and verified with utilities in U.S.
Applicability: temperate or boreal woodlands
Climate change and invasive species damage tree health
2021 was California’s second driest year, ever. And this isn’t an isolated stat. The impact of climate change is felt globally. Increasing temperatures and diminishing rainfalls are causing drought conditions not experienced in modern times. Invasive pests like the emerald ash borer (EAB) and fungal pathogens affect entire forests. The bark beetle has already decimated 45 million acres of forest in California.
Storms and droughts wreak havoc on vegetation, and coupled with the spread of invasive pests, the loss of many trees is inevitable. These dead and dying hazard trees are unpredictable (and dangerous) disruptors. When branches or whole trees fall in, fires can start. In fact, since 2000, more than 7 million acres of land have burned in wildfires annually, twice the average reported in the 1990s. Utilities bear the brunt of public outrage when hazard trees spark fires, or their branches fall on utility lines.
Hazard trees multiply customer electric service interruptions, driving reliability down and hit utilities with rising expenses for removal. Beyond hazard tree removal costs, there are heightened worker safety concerns. Vegetation management is one of the most dangerous industries in the United States. Regrettable statistics reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reveal that tree workers have at least 15 times the fatality of all other industries. This means increased pressures for an industry that is already balancing operations and maintenance (O&M) with strict regulations and tight budgets.
As this western U.S. utility faced these new climate-fueled challenges beyond general management of its tens of thousands of line miles, it found it did not have adequate visibility and efficiency to meet annual trimming goals. As a result, costs increased, and reliability decreased.
Discover hazard trees early via satellites and AI
Dying trees are hazards, but dead trees are even more dangerous. Removal of both requires focused attention and care to keep clear of drop zones. But dead trees multiply risk as they become brittle — easily dropping a branch that propels a trimmer from the bucket, or striking workers in the fall/drop zone. The bottom line: Early hazard tree identification is a must for safety.
However, whether created by pests, a structural problem, climate change, or just general poor health, these hazard trees are outliers that don’t always get inspected. And, a lot of the time, with human eyes, a tree may not appear to be dying until it’s dead. Weakened root conditions, infestations, or stem damage from heart-rot diseases, aren’t easily spotted during manual inspections. And sending inspectors out to assess every area drives up costs.
LiDAR, now in use by many aerial inspections, can easily identify split trunks and weak tops. But LiDAR cannot measure the inner aspects of tree health. Proceeding with calendar-based trim cycles and inspections can easily miss hazard trees, even if those cycles fall within new ANSI requirements: Minimum vegetation inspection frequency is once per calendar year but with no more than 18 months between inspections on the same ROW. The trouble is: Trees are dying in less than 6 months.
The utility needed to step up identification efforts, collecting the data on wire zones and border zones to assess tree health and determine where to act. Satellites and AI provided the solution to help the utility better understand where in the future these dead or dying trees are going to be.
Identify hazard trees and assess tree health from a single dashboard
With many decline periods for trees occurring in 6 months or less, cycle trims and inspections are unlikely to catch many hazard trees across line miles of overhead assets. But what if a utility program manager could work with a full risk matrix?
Climate technology — satellites and AI — provides this much-needed 360-degree view for the utility.
There’s not enough time and money to inspect every single tree using traditional approaches. By using satellites to gather information, to gather data, to use and predict, and look at past tree mortality and future tree mortality, the utility can identify these stresses and unhealthy trees before the human eyes can.
Satellite climate technology, including multispectral imagery and near-infrared analysis, can reveal telltale signs of weakness, like fire-damaged limbs or thick sloughing bark and clearance issues. Importantly, it can dig deeper for data on chlorophyl content, moisture content, inner infestations, how healthy soil is, and erosion.
In a satellite and AI solution, all this important data can be analyzed and presented in a single dashboard — identifying hazard trees, as well as tree health risk factors, in terms of high fire threat areas or hazards near urban areas or other sensitive area.
The solution can identify trees before they die and help the utility to understand that they can get crews out there to take the tree down in a quicker and more cost-effective manner. It eliminates the need for manual inspections.
Satellites as climate tech, although they are a new kid on the block, provide a cost-effective way of monitoring large expanses of land and reducing risk.
AiDash is an AI-first vertical SaaS company on a mission to transform operations, maintenance, and sustainability in industries with geographically distributed assets by using satellites and AI at scale. With access to a continual, near real-time stream of critical data, utilities, energy, mining, and other core industries can make more informed decisions and build optimized long-term plans, all while reducing costs, improving reliability, and achieving sustainability goals. To learn more about how AiDash is helping core industries become more resilient, efficient, and sustainable, visit www.aidash.com.