Smart mapping to slash vegetation mangement costs

Electricity distributors could slash tens of millions of dollars from the industry’s 800 million dollar annual vegetation management bill by embracing smart mapping technology, according to a leading industry expert.

Pinnacle ArborPro managing director and vegetation management strategist Travis Wyper said Geographic Information System (GIS) technology creates a single-point-of-truth, enabling energy companies to visualise and manage their networks.

Mr Wyper’s presentation on ‘Powering vegetation management with GIS’ – at Energy Networks 2016 – showcased his partnership with Queensland’s Ergon Energy, and how they were able to reduce costs and improve vegetation management strategies via GIS .

“The technology enables decision-makers to essentially overlay assets on environmental maps along with information about inspections, maintenance history, weather patterns and vegetation characteristics,” Mr Wyper said.

“For instance, the technology can be used to model and visualise annual vegetation growth across multiple and extensive regions so companies can remotely determine whether clearance is required.

“Similarly, if there are hot spells or high winds impacting areas earmarked for clearance, the technology can incorporate this information in real-time and highlight which high-risk zones to deploy crews to.

According to Mr Wyper, efficiency gains from this approach can lead to significant reductions in vegetation management costs – in some cases up to 10 per cent.”

Esri Australia utilities industry specialist Chris Hogan said the technology can also be used to find savings in contracts with external tree clearers.

“Companies are able to maintain an accurate historical record of all aspects of vegetation management performed by external contractors,” Mr Hogan said.

“Being able to analyse this data is invaluable for performance assessments and contract negotiations.”

GIS and mapping technology has received national attention following federal regulations governing the supply of energy by the Australian Energy Regulator. To meet new economic benchmarking requirements, network service providers are now obligated to report additional information on vegetation management activity across their networks.

“This constitutes a real return on investment in the technology,” Mr Wyper said.

The National Energy Customer Framework (NECF) – which has been steadily adopted by states over the past few years – has increased the level of mandatory reporting for energy providers.

“Unfortunately, many energy companies have found themselves in a difficult position having failed to capture their own vegetation management data or make provisions for a reliable third-party to undertake the task. These companies will most likely not meet the NECF’s reporting requirements, which covers pricing, safety and environmental monitoring,” Mr Wyper said.

“Smart mapping provides energy companies with access to accurate and up-to-date data about every aspect of their operations – enabling them to efficiently share updates both internally across the business and externally with regulatory bodies.

“It also enables them to analyse their costs for future submissions to the Australian Energy Regulator on energy pricing.

“The task of monitoring compliance and assembling reports for the regulator should not be seen as some separate, arduous task but rather an extension of existing workflow.”