Wildfire mitigation 2020: Are power utilities equipped with a remote monitoring and inspection plan?

"In the wake of COVID-19, remote working has become the new normal. Our platform is a one-of-a-kind solution that allows utilities to perform wildfire mitigation planning remotely, yet efficiently.”— Rahul Saxena, CTO, AiDash

Wildfires have set California ablaze again this year with 4,465 fires reported up until July 26. As this year’s wildfire season seems exceedingly threatening, power utilities are on the edge, trying different measures for wildfire mitigation. But are they on the right track?

Ramping up vegetation management and equipment inspections remain two of the most important measures towards wildfire mitigation planning. To help utilities better manage their operations and maintenance remotely, AiDash — a San Francisco Bay Area-based AI-first SaaS company — has been working on a satellite and AI-powered model that specifically caters to this need.

AiDash’s novel platform — Remote Monitoring and Inspection — has been designed to automate routine asset monitoring, inspection and audit tasks. It supports the monitoring of both transmission as well as distribution lines. This platform uses cutting-edge AI technology to process high-resolution multispectral satellite imagery and enables utilities to strategically and remotely monitor their assets via a web dashboard and mobile app.

“There is an increased pressure on utilities to improve fire mitigation plans to reduce the risk that utility infrastructure might cause another catastrophic wildfire. That’s why utilities need complete visibility of operations and the ability to remotely monitor, inspect and audit asset maintenance activities. This process is not only humanless and more efficient but also drives major cost savings,” said Rahul Saxena, CTO of AiDash.

There are several use cases of satellite-based asset monitoring and inspection for power utilities, especially with regards to vegetation management. AiDash’s Digital Elevation Model for power lines is able to create a 3D points cloud of vegetation along power lines. Along with information gathered from this model, additional data from satellite-based bio-mass detection, local weather and past incidences are used to create a wildfire risk score at a circuit or sub-circuit level.

Talking about preventing wildfires during the pandemic, Rahul added “In the wake of COVID-19, remote working has become the new normal. Our platform is a one-of-a-kind solution that allows utilities to perform wildfire mitigation planning remotely, yet efficiently.”

Compared to other aerial imagery sources, such as drones and airplanes, using satellites for remote monitoring and inspection has proven to be beneficial in ways more than one. Not only is satellite imagery about ten times cheaper than these sources, but it is also instantaneous. A network as large as 100K miles of distribution and 10K miles of transmission lines can be inspected in a couple of days. Applying other techniques like drones for the same geographic area can take several weeks and months to gather data.

Satellite data combines past data with the present and provides the complete picture of change detection along the assets, such as power lines, cables, electricity poles and feeders. Being able to detect changes helps track the growth of different tree species. This, in turn, can be used to plan trim cycles, hazard tree removal and so on. The satellite imagery is also used to remotely access if a vegetation management work is being done as required. Routine monitoring of transmission lines is also possible through the platform.

Electrical utility equipment and power lines cause about 10% of wildfires in the state each year, regulators say. The 2018 CampFire was caused due to a nearly 100-year old, faulty transmission line. Not only was it the most devastating wildfire in the state’s history, but it also pushed one of the biggest power utilities of the country to the brink of bankruptcy. Australia also faced one of its biggest wildfires this year, and being a universal platform, AiDash’s Remote Monitoring and Inspection can help Australian utilities to manage their assets and mitigate risks of wildfires in the future.