An aerial patrol helicopter using LiDAR technology to scan essential energy’s electricity network.

State-­of-­the-­art aerial surveys and high definition photography of Essential Energy’s electricity network have improved the quality of data collected as part of the company’s asset inspection program.

The LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) technology uses aircraft­-mounted laser imaging to record the distance between powerlines and vegetation, the ground and structures – in conjunction with high­-definition photography – to provide a detailed examination of the condition of pole top hardware.

The LiDAR survey provides a three dimensional view of the surveyed area, easily identifying network assets, vegetation, houses and roads. This information can be used to pinpoint vegetation encroachments and powerline clearances at the time of the survey.

High definition photography of pole top structures is incorporated within the LiDAR patrol. These photographs provide high resolution images of pole top hardware and are used to identify pole top defects which can be more difficult to identify from the ground.

The LiDAR and high definition photography surveying complements the traditional ground-­based network asset patrols. LiDAR captures comparatively minute details with precision accuracy – providing a detailed, three dimensional view of Essential Energy’s assets.

LiDAR aerial patrols have greater scope to traverse a range of terrain where ground­based patrols may face challenges.

The resulting three dimensional model of the network that LiDAR patrols provides can be analysed in computer aided design (CAD) software, enabling network designers to use a higher granularity of survey points compared to traditional surveying methods.

Similarly, the three dimensional model can be overlaid in internal geographic information system (GIS) software to provide employees with a visual representation of the network from the desktop. This assists in identifying and planning work for field crews.

The sheer volume of data provided by LiDAR and high definition photography is a logistical challenge for the business. For example, three high definition photographs are provided for each of the business’ 1.4 million power poles, at approximately 30 megabytes each.

The three dimensional data captured is so detailed it is delivered using digital hard drives.

The level of network asset detail provided by LiDAR patrols could be used for many industries, including forestry, engineering and security. The electricity industry uses it to accurately identify powerlines, cross arms and power poles to an engineering standard.

Essential Energy Senior Engineer, Bradley Thomas, said the data captured by LiDAR, partnered with other software applications, provided the ability to model the exact nature of the network down to the position of powerlines in relation to the nearest tree.

“We soon realised this level of detail could be used in other parts of our business as well. For example, network designers can use the 3D modelling and surrounding landscape details to improve their understanding of the network in relation to a specific area,” Mr Thomas said.

“This means that many network issues can now be scoped from the desk, rather than requiring site visits.”

Datasets from the Office of Environment and Heritage provide terrain modelling, overlaying the map and location of the network to the use of the land underneath.

“This allows the business to prioritise public safety issues and helps us better manage risk and rectification,” Mr Thomas said.

“LiDAR even enables us to overlay our data so supervisors can see the location of planned work, right down to the vegetation and any incline on the land. This enables them to dispatch the correct plant and crews for the job.”

Acting General Manager Asset Management, Paul Brazier, said Essential Energy had used LiDAR since 2014 to survey its sub-­transmission powerlines as part of its asset inspection programs aimed at mitigating bushfire risk across its network.

The organisation is conducting a five-­year program which includes the rural distribution and sub-­transmission network.

Essential Energy currently captures aerial surveys over a three month period to gather network asset information in the lead up to the bushfire season.

Due to the tightly controlled survey timeframe, delays are rare.

“As new processes and technology become available, the uses of this information throughout the business will be leveraged in many different ways into the future,” Mr Brazier said.

Essential Energy currently plans on using the updated three dimensional data captured by LiDAR to provide a detailed and accurate update to its GIS.

This information is then used across the business to plan field work, enable design planning and mitigate safety risks.

Lauren brings a fresh approach to content. While she’s previously written for publications as diverse as Australian Geographic, The Border Watch and Girlfriend, she’s found her true passion in her current role as an editor in the world of energy and infrastructure trade magazines.

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