Helicopters and lasers creating 3D map of Melbourne for vegetation management

Melbourne's power network
Image captured during a flight over the Mornington Peninsula

Helicopters will be flying over parts of Melbourne’s south east and the Mornington Peninsula over the next fortnight as part of United Energy’s efforts to keep the electricity network safe and reliable.

The aircraft will be fitted with advanced Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology to scan for vegetation growing too close to powerlines. 

The helicopters will be flying across areas such as Mornington, Hastings, Dromana, Sorrento and surrounding areas, using lasers to capture data to form a 3D image of more than 20,000 powerline spans across the network. 

Flights last month have already scanned powerlines in in suburbs such as Doncaster, Burwood, Clayton, Dandenong and surrounding areas.

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The data is analysed to help inform United Energy’s annual tree-cutting program. 

Flights take place each year, capturing new data and improving knowledge about local growth rates and environmental conditions in the area. 

United Energy head of vegetation management Hugh Vickers-Willis said the data can be used to create an accurate digital model of the electricity network and its surroundings.

Image captured during a flight over Sorrento

“This data helps ensure we identify which trees to cut, by how much and when,” Mr Vickers-Willis said.

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“This is all about community safety and it’s something we’re continuing to invest in as we work to keep the network safe and reliable.” 

Mr Vickers-Willis said United Energy had recently brought its aerial inspections ‘in house’, rather than using external contractors, which has delivered significant improvements in safety, data quality, flexibility and efficiency. 

“By making these improvements to our aerial services, we are further reducing the risk of fire and improving the reliability of the network,” Mr Vickers-Willis said. 

The helicopters fly above powerlines at just over 300 metres at a speed of about 130kmh. 

They have been fitted with LiDAR scanning technology to accurately measure the distance between any tree branches or other vegetation and the electricity network. 

United Energy is responsible for the cutting and removal of trees near its 184,000 spans of powerlines within the boundaries of private properties and on public land, in order to maintain the required safe clearance space.