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4 Ways Trimble Vegetation Manager Modernizes Utility Vegetation Management Programs

For electric utility organizations, managing the risk of trees growing near power lines is a top operational expenditure (OpEx) item and often comes with significant financial and reputational risk.

Transmission utilities must comply with rigorous vegetation clearance requirements set by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) or face steep fines. Distribution utilities, while not as strictly regulated, still have a reputation to uphold, and need to maintain a resilient network. With anywhere from a few hundred to hundreds of thousands of overhead lines, staying in compliance and managing all of the associated work involved is a daunting task for electric utilities.

Many electric utilities still deploy conventional methods such as helicopter or foot patrols to scope for hazard trees, and often use a combination of paper and antiquated programs that create stifling data and communication silos.

Trimble Vegetation Manager (TVM) is an end-to-end utility vegetation management (UVM) software solution that modernizes vegetation management by combining the use of GIS, 3D, satellite, LiDAR (light detection and ranging), as well as augmented reality technologies to ensure that electric utility networks are safe and reliable. TVM not only helps identify risk areas and eliminates data silos, but it also eases regulatory burdens and maximizes efficiency.

Here are four ways that your utility organization can start modernizing its UVM through Trimble Vegetation Manager.

1. Digitize Workflows 

Foresters can use TVM to evaluate hazard trees using inspection templates in Trimble Unity AMS, an asset management solution that is designed to meet standards set by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA). Associated inspection data such as notes, defects, pictures, or recommendations for pruning or removal can be easily tracked within TVM.

Landowner notification workflows are greatly simplified when digitized through TVM, eliminating time-intensive activities such as the physical distribution of door hangers or the need to create and mail maintenance notification letters to landowners.

A program Optimizer dashboard displaying tree inspection and electric network data.

When notifying a landowner, foresters can use TVM on their device to review a work plan and capture a digital signature, showing that a landowner has approved a specific work plan and/or is okay with herbicide use. An inspection report can also be emailed to landowners who live off-site or weren’t present during a visit. Once the landowner has been notified, work activities can be assigned to a tree crew.

Crews can use ELM to record time spent on a job, any fuel or herbicide that was used, in addition to equipment requirements needed to perform the job. Foresters also have the added ability to keep contractors accountable by using inspection forms to audit and track their work.

Vegetation program managers can also benefit from TVM by utilizing customized dashboards to monitor contractor and utility staff progress—as well as tracking project costs and financial data through Trimble Unity AMS.

Using Program Optimizer—one of the optional TVM modules—as well as advanced filters, and analytics allows managers to see what circuits are up for routine maintenance, and how hazard trees will affect the network. They can also leverage data to prioritize work by targeting high-risk areas, ensuring that budgets are met and risk is averted.

2. Gain Spatial Insight with GIS

TVM brings forward a GIS-centric foundation. Utility assets become the system of record, allowing utility organizations to build a history of work activities performed on individual spans, bays, towers, and circuits—which can help identify problem circuits and feeders with more accuracy.

Combining TVM with additional ArcGIS data layers such as landowner parcel information, wildfire risk, protected species ranges, outage information, etc., allows vegetation managers to make better-informed, data-driven decisions. It also allows field users to download tile package maps so they can carry out their work in rural, offline environments. All of this helps to remove data silos within organizations.

3. Incorporate LiDAR 

LiDAR is a mature technology that has been integrated seamlessly with TVM. LiDAR Analyzer (LA) is an optional module that creates a digital twin of a utility’s network. A LiDAR scan creates a more accurate GIS inventory of assets such as poles, structures, spans, and bays by capturing the precise X, Y, and Z coordinates.

LA has a conflation tool that allows GIS analysts to append source GIS data with more precise data from LiDAR, improving the asset inventory. The Z value also allows for maps to be rendered in a 3D scene.A 3D scene rendering of electric lines and surrounding vegetation, color-coding spans that are at risk.

LA is able to take point-cloud data from a variety of sources, including aerial or ground-based; such as from a truck or rail-mounted Trimble MX-50. An electric utility can utilize their existing minimum voltage clearance distances (MVCD) standards or those from NERC and create a canopy-colored risk map of all vegetation along the network.

Tree and brush canopy data is also derived from LiDAR and determined by radial distance (grow-in risk) and a tree’s likelihood to fall and come in contact with conductors (fall-in risk). This gives program managers precise insight as to which trees or brush need immediate attention, removing costly ‘cycle busters’. With a 99% detection rate, this is the only NERC-certified technology for utilities to maintain compliance. It cuts operating expenses and manual labor costs by removing the need for costly helicopter line patrols or boots-on-the-ground assessments.

4. Visualize with Augmented Reality

One of the traditionally more difficult tasks for field staff is to pinpoint individual trees that require assessment or work. Remote, homogeneous forests and lengthy spans make this task even more difficult. To remedy this issue, TVM incorporates another Trimble technology, Sitevision, which allows for visualization and analysis in 3D augmented reality. Foresters can use their mobile device to visualize trim points in the field, taking the guesswork out of locating trees. This greatly expedites work and removes any uncertainty around the vegetation in question.

Additionally, Sitevision works as a rangefinder and can measure heights and distances. Foresters are able to put a “danger dome” over a tree, and then load utility conductor max sag and sway models to visualize from all angles whether or not a tree could fall and harm a conductor under hot and windy conditions. This is especially useful for landowner negotiation, because it helps residents see why their trees might need pruning or removal. This eases the forester’s burden in explaining individual work plans and can even protect an electric utility against litigation.

The advantage of TVM being designed as an end-to-end solution is in its ability to manage all aspects of the UVM workflow. By implementing these four tips, either together or separately, TVM can have a profound impact and produce measurable results for any electric utility looking to continue their digital transformation and further their vegetation management program.