IBM, Oncor Team Up for Predictive Utility Maintenance

IBM, Oncor Team Up for Predictive Utility Maintenance
Image credit: IBM

Information technology company IBM has launched a predictive analytics tool that—combined with artificial intelligence—helps utilities better spot which trees and other vegetation within their service territory need to be trimmed or removed to keep their grid running.

IBM worked with Oncor Electric Delivery Co., the largest utility company in Texas, to develop the solution, The Weather Company Vegetation Management—Predict, built on the cloud-based platform, IBM PAIRS Geoscope.

The solution analyzes geospatial and time-based data on vegetation growth collected by a wide swath of devices, including satellites, drones, aerial flights, internet of things (IoT) sensors and weather models. The insights are then used to predict which vegetation is encroaching upon power lines, so utilities can proactively respond with preventive maintenance measures.

“Our utilities clients told us that getting detailed insight into the state of vegetation across their service territory was a key challenge,” Mahesh Sudhakaran, chief digital officer of IBM Energy, Environment and Utilities, said in a press release.

“By combining PAIRS with AI and industry expertise, we can give clients one integrated solution, delivered through IBM Hybrid Cloud, to help them predict and manage vegetation in a cost-effective and intelligent way,” Sudhakaran said.

IBM’s solution is vastly superior to the traditional approach of vegetation management, which involves conducting on-site inspections and keeping track manually of when areas were last trimmed, said Oncor’s vegetation management program manager Peter Stoltman.

“Vegetation poses a serious risk to power lines and the surrounding areas, but monitoring it is a challenging and time-consuming process,” Stoltman said. “By working with IBM, we are able to use analytics and AI to prioritize high-risk areas. This helps us adapt maintenance operations to improve public safety and service reliability.”

Better vegetation management helps ensure overall grid reliability and compliance, wildfire prevention, storm management and assessment, said Cameron Clayton, IBM’s general manager of Watson Media and Weather.

“The ability to layer weather data with satellite and sensor data gives utility companies powerful new insights to help them improve operations and minimize impact on their customers,” Clayton said.

Vegetation management is at the core in the case of Pacific Gas & Electric Co., which is under scrutiny for allegedly sparking several California wildfires last year due to the utility company’s inadequate maintenance practices. PG&E is currently awaiting U.S. District Judge William Alsu​p’s decision whether the company now has to inspect and trim trees across its entire grid.

“Vegetation management is typically a pretty dry subject, but the PG&E saga has brought it front and center in utility news,” writes Robert Walton for UtilityDive. “The utility recently warned a federal judge that actions he is considering taking would require it to remove more than 100 million trees — an impossible task, the utility said…. Could IBM's geospatial solution help PG&E?”

About the Author

Katie Kuehner-Hebert

Katie Kuehner-Hebert has more than three decades of experience writing about the construction industry, and her articles have been featured in the Associated General Contractor’s Constructor magazine, the American Fence Association’s Fencepost, the...

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