- IBM said Wednesday it has developed technology capable of assisting electric utilities with vegetation management, allowing them to monitor growth across service territories, and better predict areas where trees will cause problems for power lines.
- The tech company has already been working with Oncor Electric, helping the largest utility in Texas to adjust maintenance operations to improve public safety and service reliability.
- Vegetation management has been a key issue for Pacific Gas & Electric, as its equipment has been accused of sparking several of California's wildfires. A federal judge is considering directing the utility to inspect and trim trees across its entire grid.
Vegetation management is typically a pretty dry subject, but the PG&E saga has brought it front and center in utility news. The utility recently warned a federal judge that actions he is considering taking would require it to remove more than 100 million trees — an impossible task, the utility said.
PG&E is still awaiting U.S. District Judge William Alsup's decision in its probation proceeding.
Could IBM's geospatial solution help PG&E? The tech company says it has worked with Oncor to develop a utility-specific solution capable of layering weather analysis with satellite and sensor data, to help power companies adapt their maintenance operations and minimize customer impacts of overgrowth.
IBM said the solution is built on its PAIRS Geoscope, which "quickly processes massive, complex geospatial and time-based datasets collected by satellites, drones, aerial flights, millions of IoT sensors and weather models."
While vegetation poses "a serious risk to power lines," monitoring it is "a challenging and time consuming process. ... By working with IBM, we are able to use analytics and AI to prioritize high-risk areas," Peter Stoltman, vegetation management program manager for Oncor, said in a statement.
According to IBM, vegetation is a leading cause of service interruption for utility companies. The company says that with its new solution, hundreds of miles of transmission and distribution lines will be regularly monitored to provide "continuous insight about the state of growth and maintenance."
"In addition to helping identify and predict outage threats, geospatial-temporal insights can help with overall grid reliability and compliance, wildfire prevention, storm management and assessment," the company said.