What Utilities Need to Know About Electric Transmission LiDAR Surveys: Part 1
Developments over the past year in North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) Standards FAC-008, 003 and NERC Facilities Alert could cause a feeding frenzy for LiDAR data, but utilities are not the sharks! LiDAR data providers are circling the waters to gorge on lucrative NERC related LiDAR projects and many are either not suited for these highly specialized aerial LiDAR surveys or some take advantage of utilities lack of knowledge about the technology.
One of the biggest mistakes many utilities are making is relegating a highly technical, skilled service critical to complying with NERC Standards and ensuring reliability of the Bulk Electric System (BES) to their purchasing departments to tender RFPs which will be determined based on lowest bidder this can have disastrous consequences!
WHY USE LiDAR?
In response to field observations of aging defects or imperfections in transmission infrastructure, NERC stipulates that transmission owners determine whether their methods of modeling load ratings for transmission lines are an accurate reflection of actual conditions in the field as opposed to the engineering specifications used in designing lines possibly 20-30 years ago. Recent guidance in the electrical transmission industry recommends the use of Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technologies to determine facility ratings based upon actual field conditions. But most facility owners are unfamiliar with what needs to be done related to LiDAR surveys for electric transmission.
Aerial LiDAR/Imagery surveys provide the most advanced method to create highly accurate, intelligent data for entire transmission ROW providing detailed power line and infrastructure information such as line sag, crossing violations, vegetation clearances, and encroachments. The systems are designed to meet the precision survey requirements of electrical utilities providing the capability to acquire high-resolution LiDAR data, Ortho-images and oblique images of every inch of a power-line corridor. It can also be redeployed for accurate, cost effective condition change management over time. LiDAR provides the complete answer when properly specified, managed and provided by a competent contractor.
What utilities need to know
Most of the anxiety and uncertainty revolves around satisfying FAC- 008 regulating facilities ratings and not FAC- 003 which deals with vegetation management. However, utilities are engaged in an endless battle waged to control vegetation, with great potential consequence, to ensure reliability of the nations electric power grid. Now utility ROW managers, engineers, and foresters have available to them, literally, the culmination of mans technological advances in situational awareness, intelligence and information technology, and the same LiDAR survey can benefit all groups associated with the effective management of electric transmission lines.
Unfortunately, there are no official requirements describing LiDAR survey & PLS-CADD modeling parameters to satisfy FAC-008 which raises concern where the end user is getting their information. Many utilities rely on information provided by the service providers, and this may not always be in the utilitys best interest.
Often, utilities dont know what the first steps to get into LiDAR are: How should they specify their requirements, and what company can provide this highly technical service in the period of time and to what level of accuracy and completeness?
There are a number of firms well suited to provide the information utilities need in order to make informed decisions about their LiDAR needs: Information with regard to required level of detail and features to be identified and positioned, precision and point densities, QC procedures, image and terrain resolution, etc. Electric facility owners requests range from basic LiDAR classification of wires, ground, structures and vegetation to feature code lists of more than 200 objects some not accurately detectable in LiDAR or high resolution imagery. Many of these objects and conditions are not a factor considered in the PLS-CADD rating equation either.
In some cases there may be a tendency to lean toward over engineering the project to account for uncertainty which adds to schedule and cost. In fairness, some utilities may have other uses for this level of detail above and beyond that necessary to address FAC 003 / 008. And, there are other cases where utilities who acted hastily now need some expertise to help them figure out what to do with whatever they ended up buying.
What to watch-out for:
There are a number of developments within the LiDAR service industry that may not be easily understood by those outside the industry and could be detrimental to a transmission LiDAR survey. For instance, if these surveys are tendered to the lowest bidder, there is a possibility of one or a handful of bidders to low-ball their bids in order to virtually buy the business. This is a practice that has occurred in other LiDAR applications where a handful of vendors buy-up the majority of the contracts and end up holding the client hostage when they hit an inevitable bottleneck in either the acquisition or the processing of the data the latter being a particular burdensome process responsible for the majority of bottlenecks. This affects the quality of data and information derived from the LiDAR survey as well as delays delivery of the product.
Six Program Management Requirements for Successful Electric Transmission LiDAR Surveys
Electric transmission companies can potentially spend huge sums in generating data for NERC compliance to make sure they dont get burned by their LiDAR provider, they should consider looking to a LiDAR consultant to:
1. Provide basic understanding of what LiDAR can and cant do.
2. Establish requirements for transmission corridor survey.
3. All LiDAR is not created equally appropriate survey systems, equipment, processes and skills need to be applied to achieve required deliverables for transmission engineering models and vegetation management which are not the same as many other LiDAR survey applications.
4. Establish program costs, budgets and performance schedule.
5. Determine project specifications and help select LiDAR contractor.
6. Independent QA/QC of LiDAR-based deliverables to ensure level of service meets facility owners’ needs.
Another ploy utilities need to watch out for is LiDAR providers who use data acquisition and basic processing as a loss leader and selling the utility that they just need their final deliverables from the LiDAR survey and not the actual original data. This is a critical mistake because then LiDAR vendors can hold the original LiDAR data hostage understanding that when the utility comes back for more value-added processing and information products, the price gets a lot higher and the utility ends up paying a lot more than they originally would if they had contracted properly.
Facility owners should insist on receiving all data from a LiDAR survey including the original LiDAR point cloud data as well as all final deliverables. Dielmo 3D, Valencia, Spain, (www.dielmo.com) helps to empower utility ROW managers by giving them the right tools to implement business practices to manage wire condition risks, field and operation issues, auditing, and remediation of emergent issues, by putting their LiDAR, ortho photos and other information online and accessible to all interested personnel in a manner that is understandable to all parties.
Dielmo Server Technology is distributed in North America by Spatial Resources, LLC, Centennial, Colorado (www.spatialresources.com) providing a very useful tool for managing LiDAR data online. All potential users who dont know or cannot manage LiDAR data will be able to understand and work with this information drawing conclusions from LiDAR data, getting information from a point, displaying the data in 3D, drawing a cross-section or making measurements.
Dielmo removes the high cost of maintaining internal IT staff, infrastructure and hardware by hosting these services and managing the heavy lifting of data storage requirements associated with the Gigabytes of LiDAR and Ortho Imagery as well as generating intelligent information derived from LiDAR data. Data can be made accessible to other GIS systems as a Web Mapping Service (WMS) requiring no GIS data configuration or resource dependent Geo-database loading.
For electric transmission applications, Dielmo Server Technology is able to display LiDAR data in 3D, by height, intensity, and classifications; Analyze the data by creating profiles; Classify profiles and export them; and get information from each point. Without any expert knowledge or specialized software, utility personnel can detect danger areas, measure pole distances, height of wires and monitor valuable infrastructure.
Dielmo 3D also provides classification of data, vectorization of transmission networks, and risk evaluation of vegetation encroachment into power lines. They can classify original LAS/xyz/bin LiDAR data and provide rapid, accurate classified data in specified themes, such as: Buildings, Wooden poles, Ground, Vegetation (high, medium, low), Infrastructure, electric towers, Power lines (2D, 3D) and Roads.
Utilities face tremendous operational challenges every day in managing transmission lines and ROWs. They need to decide what equipment or machinery to use when accessing a given line or span that has been restricted by virtue of terrain, land use, steepness, remote access, habitat etc. Having LiDAR, ortho photos and other geographic information online for all team members to access makes these day to day operational challenges much easier with less risk when addressed online in the office saving expensive, time-consuming trips to the field.
Utilities cannot afford the risk of regulatory fines or mitigate against the possibility now that they have available to them information technology, intelligence and situational awareness that can help them avoid such pitfalls by employing the right tools, consultants and professionals. With critical knowledge walking out the door every day, continuing mistakes in the field by contractors, and the cost of potential regulatory violations, fines and ensuing repercussions, the consequences for not getting the LiDAR right can be dire.
The bottom line is that for many utilities, when they do get good LiDAR derived ROW intelligence they will find they have more problems than they suspect. Their real dilemma is the remediation task they face to alleviate their vegetation management issues and establish the true rating and condition of their facilities. Many utilities may fear the information that LiDAR will reveal. However, it also provides the information to remediate the situation which will save utilities from much expense, unproductive efforts, avoid outages and compliance fines.