Digital Vegetation Management: A Billion Dollar Opportunity

In 2003, overgrown vegetation and power system issues brought havoc to the Northeast United States and lower Ontario. In the second largest blackout in world history, 55 million people were left without electricity, in some cases for more than two days, for reasons that went unexplained for weeks.

Images of thousands of New Yorkers navigating their way home in the darkness through the streets of Manhattan, over bridges to outer boroughs and suburbs, will stay with people forever. Vegetation, like the trees that took out high voltage lines in rural Ohio and started the blackout, will always threaten the fidelity of the grid.

Managing that threat comes at a significant cost for utilities. However, it’s a cost that can be moderated by moving from human-based to digital-based patrols of vegetation. GeoDigital has built the most comprehensive platform of digital remote sensing, analysis and work management tools that bring vegetation management into the digital era. The possible savings are more than $1 billion a year across the U.S. grid. Utilities can gauge their own savings from utilizing these methods via a calculator tool provided by GeoDigital and McDonnell Group.

Utilities in the United States manage 400,000 miles of transmission lines valued at more than $200 billion. Protecting those assets isn’t just a priority for shareholders and management, it’s also required by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. FERC’s newest set of regulations covers all power lines operated at more than 200kV that extend beyond 1.609 miles from the generating station switchyard or that do not have a clear line of sight down the line from the generating station.

The top 100 utilities reporting to FERC have an average of 2,868 miles of transmission lines, with the top 12 holding an average of 9,100 miles. These lines course over terrain as varied as swamps, lush plains, arid deserts and high alpine environments, with wildly different vegetation threats. Cost savings for these biggest of players can run into the tens of millions of dollars per year.

In many cases, the traditional methods of vegetation management, with humans involved at every step, have remained unchanged for decades. By using just their eyes, field workers are required to sweep every foot of foliage falling under regulation. GeoDigital has taken this once-laborious process and infused it with technology that analyzes vegetation threats, projects future growth and directs work plans to best tackle the most imminent threats to a utilities’ carrying capacity. The GeoDigital suite of sensing, software and services offers transmission line owners a way to mitigate compliance challenges while keeping their lines safer than ever before from vegetative interference.

The foundation of the GeoDigital platform starts with LiDAR and high resolution imaging of a utilities’ right-of-ways. With this 3-D scan of assets and their surrounding vegetation, GeoDigital software can get to work detecting where vegetation is most likely to cause a problem in the near future. Crews can then be dispatched according to a comprehensive system of prioritization and efficiency.

Merely planning maintenance for the 400,000 miles of high voltage line in the United States costs utilities $5.2 billion a year. Introducing GeoDigital processes could save, conservatively, 4.8% of those costs, amounting to $250 million.

Even bigger savings can be squeezed from utilities costs in the maintenance work itself. Savings nationwide within this funnel could amount to $400 million by leveraging GeoDigital software to best allocate crews to places of need while eschewing locations where vegetation trimming holds few near term benefits.

Other projected savings from applying a mixed solution of software, automation, drone spot-checking and better coordinated work plans across the U.S. grid can bring significant benefits to utilities. Visit to try the calculator out against your utility line miles today.