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The entire Horizon Power electrical network, sprawled over 2.3 million square kilometres of beautiful and rugged terrain, is being digitally mapped using a combination of drones, a helicopter and a vehicle fitted with advanced sensors.

The Geospatial Intelligence Program, launched in November 2021, is yet another example of Horizon Power’s digital transformation – in this case to help keep its network safe and ensure reliability of power supplies right across regional Western Australia.

Data captured from the survey will create a digital twin rendered in 2D and 3D, matched to Horizon Power’s assets, and tagged with defects or vegetation encroachments.The utility operates 38 power systems delivering power to more than 48,000 customers, including homes, communities, and businesses.

This includes 34 microgrids which are tailored to meet the unique needs of some of the most isolated and remote communities in the state. Horizon Power’s General Manager Technology and Digital Transformation, Ray Achemedei, said the Geospatial Intelligence Program is part of a broader digital transformation program which was enabling the business to reduce costs by improving asset maintenance, outage response times, and planning for the future of its assets.

“This program is transforming our ability to quickly understand the state of the network across a vast service area, optimise asset performance, and help us keep the network safe and reliable,” Mr Achemedei said.

“In the space of a few months we have captured our entire network, combined large amounts of geographic data from overlapping sources into a single data management repository, to create a common operational view of the network and assets. Stakeholders across the entire organisation are now able to easily explore, analyse, and visualise the network to make informed decisions.

“We can identify defects, improve our understanding of the state of our assets right down to the specific conditions of equipment on an asset and also importantly, the environment around them, such as vegetation.”

Utilising artificial intelligence and machine learning

Horizon Power has partnered with geospatial specialist Altavec to deliver the program which will continue until June 2023. Altavec’s technology processes LiDAR (for network realignment, vegetation analysis and network clearance analysis) and high-precision imagery (for asset condition monitoring) in a highly automated fashion.

“The innovative use of imagery and other remote sensing technologies, the cloud and AI/ML technologies is helping us move rapidly towards predictive data-driven maintenance strategies, to optimise our maintenance activities and minimise network failures and damages,” Mr Achemedei said.

“Artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques are allowing us to scan thousands of images collected across thousands of kilometres of the network in minutes and be guided to immediate areas of concern. “Streamlined analytics mean decision makers will then be provided with actionable insights and promptly get the right team to the right place at the right time.” Mr Achemedei said the program’s safety benefits were also significant.

“Currently we inspect our network by having our crew drive or walk alongside powerlines over long distances which can sometimes involve accessing land that is environmentally sensitive, could damage crops or is generally difficult to access,” he said.

“The ability to fly a drone reduces the need for people to work at heights in among live wires for inspection activities and means we can continue to do a good job managing employee safety and wellbeing, minimising the time they need to work in extreme weather conditions.

“It will also improve our ability to respond and recover from events such as bushfires, cyclones and floods and manage vegetation to reduce the risk of unplanned outages.” Mr Achemedei said he was looking forward to being able to explore the temporal aspects associated with the data being collected and updated on a regular basis.

“We don’t think it will be too long before we can confidently predict the rate of degradation and the associated risk of failure and business and customer impact relating to the specific asset and location and then schedule maintenance and vegetation management activities accordingly,” Mr Achemedei said.

Advantages and addressing concerns

Other benefits of the program include:

  • Virtual inspections that provide the ability to plan beyond near run-to-failure model and gain visibility into the health of assets and equipment that cannot be seen from the ground
  • Accurate identification and quantification of non-compliant asset conditions, prioritisation of asset maintenance/repairs and targeted preventive maintenance that will increase the life of assets and reliability across the network
  • Access to geospatial information which will assist in planning and prioritising before crews begin field work and also reduce site assessment visits and field travel time
  • The information will also improve permitting workflows, resulting in better data and time savings for both office and field crews
  • Reactive maintenance costs will be reduced with improved system reliability and fault response efficiency
  • Improved safety for the community through detailed analysis providing awareness of assets and safety clearances
  • Reduction in unplanned outages both number of events and duration

Horizon Power notifies communities and customers ahead of the surveying work, ensuring it can manage any concerns about the noise from drones, helicopters or aircraft. “Horizon Power is making significant investments in developing its renewable energy capability and expertise,” Mr Achemedei said.

“This program is just one of a number of initiatives underway, exploring new and innovative ways of providing our customers and communities with better outcomes and equipping our workforce with the tools and data to do so.”

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