From the Editor: Time to Reap What You Have Sown

A 864Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE

Welcome to the September issue of LiDAR Magazine. Summer is waning and fall, with ideal leaf-off conditions for aerial LiDAR, is looming on the horizon. As any farmer knows it’s time to reap what he has sown. As is the case in the LiDAR business most LiDAR companies are doing just that! They are in their busy season: From now till the snows fly and the rivers freeze.

Since taking this position as Managing Editor of LiDAR Magazine, I’ve been making my rounds touching base with many folks involved in all aspects of LiDAR … terrestrial, mobile and aerial. Virtually everyone I’ve spoken to are "REALLY" busy. However, there seems to be a "Tale of Two Cities" playing out in our industry … while in most sectors business is booming … the aerial LiDAR sector is experiencing a little indigestion as a result of the situation over the last few years.

Possibly the greatest boon to the aerial LiDAR sector was back in 2010 with the NERC Facilities Alert. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) Standard FAC-008 and NERC Facilities Alert caused a feeding frenzy for LiDAR data. However, utilities werent the sharks! LiDAR data providers circling the waters gorged on lucrative NERC related LiDAR projects and the aerial LiDAR industry is now suffering the consequences.

The LiDAR industry gobbled up NERC contracts like an anaconda swallows a wild Boar …. Most of the NERC Facilities Rating work related to NERC Reliability Standard FAC-008 has worked its way through the system and the industry is now feeling the heart burn. In the past year or so most of that business has been completed. Numerous aerial LiDAR firms including those that popped-up just to support the NERC business, and existing firms that invested heavily to compete for it are now suffering. Nothing has come along to replace that chunk of business leaving some companies reeling from the financial shortfall.

There is a silver lining…
For the past few years, most utility LiDAR activity has been focused on satisfying NERC Reliability Standard FAC- 008 regulating facility ratings initiated by the "Alert" in 2010 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 nation’s electric power grid.

NERC Reliability Standard FAC-003-3 for transmission vegetation management went into effect In July 2014. It stipulates that lines need to be routinely inspected once a year …it does not, however, recommend the best method of inspection. Increasingly, utilities find that aerial manual inspection and foot patrols are inadequate when it comes to ensuring against vegetation related threats. Electric utilities turn to aerial LiDAR and imagery surveys to rapidly identify critical clearances, danger and hazard vegetation and abnormal line states to ensure compliance with Standard FAC-003-3.

Many utility ROW and vegetation management experts are convinced that LiDAR will play a major role in satisfying NERC Reliability Standard FAC-003-3. Since the standard does not specify how the ROW is to be inspected, no one knows how much LIDAR will be used or how soon …but, with hundreds of thousands of transmission lines to be inspected annually, it’s a good bet LiDAR will play a major role.

Another area of optimism is the USGS 3DEP program. As many in the LiDAR business know, this is a cost sharing program between state, local and federal government agencies to share the data acquisition cost. The USGS states that about 50 million dollars will be expended by all public agencies on LIDAR data acquisition in FY-2015, unfortunately, a shortfall of about 96 million. Obviously much less than the 146 million dollars per annum needed to fully fund the program but still a major boost for LiDAR firms.

In July, the Senate passed the $350 billion long-term transportation bill financing the federal Highway Trust Fund, speeds up environmental reviews of construction projects, sets aside money for major projects and directs highway aid to major freight transportation corridors. Stimulus initiatives such as the Highway Bill, NERC Reliability Standard FAC-003-3 and USGS 3DEP all hold tremendous promise for the LiDAR industry. However, that which holds true for the farmer also applies to LiDAR companies: "You reap what you sow!" If you are not busy reaping now, you must question what you have sown and what you sow in the future.

Until next time …Cheers!

Roland Mangold //

A 864Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE