A Risk-Informed Approach to Vegetation Management Reduces Cost, Increases Reliability and Safety

September 7, 2017 Kreg McCollum

Whenever a utility puts up a power line, they also must manage the vegetation that surrounds that line.  As long as there are trees and overhead power lines, vegetation management will be one of the most important – and expensive – operational areas confronting an electric utility. 

Vegetation – and managing that vegetation – can indeed be costly.  Vegetation management practices typically make up the largest portion of annual transmission and distribution (T&D) maintenance costs.  While the level of impact varies significantly between utilities, trees are clearly a leading cause of power outages that impact system reliability as well as public and utility staff safety. 

A vegetation management (VM) program has a very high impact on each of the three pillars of utility success – safety, reliability, and cost.  But there are other desired key outcomes of a VM program as well, including customer satisfaction, risk reduction, meeting regulatory requirements, and environmental impacts.   Vegetation management is a complex issue with interwoven objectives. 

So how can a utility more effectively assess risk and prioritize their treatment cycle?  By using precise data, advanced analytics, and supporting visual context, utilities can move away from a fixed-time or just-in-time management strategy towards a more risk-informed, condition-based treatment cycle.

For years, utilities have used a fixed-time-based approach – a simple, defined schedule with routine inspection and cutting in clearly defined areas of a service region.  Some utilities take a just-in-time approach, which prescribes cutting based on clearly defined criteria.  Just-in-time can be a budget-reducer for certain, but also an approach that requires a high level of consistent monitoring of vegetation within a service area and one that can add risk.

By moving to a condition-based approach, utilities can move to a more proactive approach that is risk-informed and flexible.

Industry trends point to the convergence of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) in all aspects of managing a utility.  Vegetation management is no exception.  The effective use of these tools allows a utility to move from a passive/reactive approach to one that is proactive, risk-informed, and condition-based.  Vegetation management treatment is carried out when it makes the most sense based on cost, risk, operational or program goals.

So how does a utility take steps to streamline their approach to vegetation management?  First, by exploring the tools that allow utilities to take a more strategic approach to vegetation management by:

  • Increasing the volume of data
  • Increasing the accuracy of basic data
  • Increasing the ability and speed with which you can analyze data
  • Using tools that make it easier and more intuitive to examine and analyze data
  • Acting on information that can be developed in order to manage and decrease costs and risks

The most effective solutions today tie together precise/accurate data, advanced/efficient analytics, and advanced technologies that provide visual context and intuitive use.  Forward-thinking utilities are changing their approach to vegetation management by:

  • Implementing condition-based management
  • Analyzing information in a risk-informed manner
  • Knowing where their assets are, what condition the assets are in, and understanding the surrounding environment (natural and built)
  • Operating from a single version of truth across the utility

Leidos offers state-of-the-art vegetation management services through the use of Roames technology – a solution that merges information technology and operational technology to create extraordinary value and significant cost savings in utility vegetation management plans.  We are the exclusive North American provider of the Roames technology. To learn more about our vegetation management expertise, visit energy.leidos.com/solutions/utility-vegetation-management

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