The value of drones for vegetation management


Drones key to a successful vegetation management program for utilities

— by Jacob Goodman, UAS Quality Assurance (QA) Inspector, Spright

As utility infrastructure ages, it grows more susceptible to damage and faults that threaten service continuity. Utility constructs in rural areas or communities with dense vegetation face a particular type of concern when trees and shrubs become overgrown and interfere with the safe and reliable operation and maintenance of utility structures and power lines.

Monitoring foliage growth and identifying potential hazards are key to a successful vegetation management program. Failure to control vegetation can result in dangerous conditions that may directly lead to downed power lines and fires, but also impact the ability of workers to safely access power lines for routine maintenance and repairs.

Drone-based efficiencies

To address these issues, most electric utilities conduct regular inspections and trimming of trees and other vegetation near power lines. This is typically done by teams of workers on foot or in trucks, who manually inspect the area and make decisions about which trees or branches need to be trimmed or removed. Helicopters are also routinely employed to conduct inspections from above. Both of these methods can prove inefficient in terms of time, cost, and resource allocation.

Drones have the potential to improve this process in several ways:

  • Drones equipped with cameras can quickly and easily survey large areas of land, identifying problem areas that need to be addressed. This results in significant time savings over manual inspections.
  • Drones can reach areas that may be difficult for humans or even manned aircraft to access. For example, drones can be used to inspect power lines in mountainous or densely forested areas, or to assess the condition of transmission towers in remote locations.
  • Unmanned aircraft can fly closer to the utility lines, obtaining better data through more focused and accurate images.
  • Drones can be equipped with advanced cameras and sensors that can detect abnormal changes in vegetation and also identify potential faults or hazards on lines, poles, and other equipment – making the entire operation more economical and efficient.
  • Use of unmanned aircraft is inherently safer and greener than traditional methods
Using drones, Spright’s vegetation management program can monitor foliage growth and identify potential hazards that may potentially lead to downed power lines and fires.

Turning data into action

Drone-captured data becomes actionable information when it is reviewed and analyzed by experienced professionals that are trained to detect vegetation impediments and other structural faults using various image capture modalities including RGB, LiDAR, and thermal imaging. High-quality drone operators such as Spright utilize advanced artificial intelligence and skilled quality assurance inspectors to manage and catalog all incoming data to quickly identify faults and hazards to enable a fast and targeted response by repair crews.

Overall, partnering with a comprehensive drone service provider to conduct vegetation management services positions utility companies to more quickly identify and respond to potential issues threatening safety and service continuity.

Jacob Goodman is UAS Quality Assurance (QA) Inspector at Spright where he is responsible for analyzing incoming UAS data to deliver actionable information to customers.