Optimal Utility: The Power of 3D Data

Ryan Kim
By Ryan Kim ·
5 min

In today’s highly connected economy, few industries are more important than the utility industry. Even a minor disruption can have catastrophic effects, causing traffic accidents, grounding planes, and shuttering classrooms. It is paramount that utility companies are able to plan effectively, maintain service quality, and respond with urgency.

3D Data Optimizes Operations

Managing critical infrastructure remains challenging. 3D technology can ease these challenges.

1. Power Line Planning

Drone using LIDAR to scan field

Maintaining existing infrastructure and planning for future power line installments is essential for power companies to provide reliable energy and meet demand. However, factors such as climate change have resulted in annual increases in power outages. Between 2013 and 2021, the average duration of power outages doubled, with the frequency of outages increasing 18%.

To combat these risks, power companies employ electronic power corridor mapping, powered by 3D data. Utilizing LiDAR scanners mounted to helicopters and drones, power companies are now able to perform high fidelity mapping of power lines, man-made infrastructure, and the surrounding terrain, resulting in a data rich 3D point cloud.

Leveraging these point clouds, power companies can perform line-of-sight analysis to understand if there are any obstructions that would impact transmission for new power lines.  By selecting two points in a point cloud and using line-of-sight algorithms that incorporate line tracing, engineers can instantaneously determine if there is vision from one point to another. This analysis provides valuable insight to engineers during planning of new power lines, resulting in strategically placed infrastructure that minimizes disruption and allows for more accessible maintenance.

The granularity of point clouds allows electrical engineers to more accurately plan new designs to meet specifications. To ensure transmission performance, engineers must account for power line sag and tension. Using 3D point clouds, power companies can simulate transmission behavior during different weather conditions and load.  By varying parameters such as temperature and distance to vegetation, engineers can determine the appropriate tension to prevent sag and ensure safe distances between conductors.

2. Strategic Maintenance Through Change Detection

Identifying unexpected changes is critical to a utility company’s operations. 3D data makes change detection possible and more accurate, informing maintenance schedules and allowing engineers to be more proactive.  For example, trees placed near roads can cause the pavement to crack or create obstructions, resulting in road degradation and traffic impairment. In Munich, mobile LiDAR scanners captured 3D point clouds of trees at intersections over time, which were georeferenced to pinpoint their exact location. Engineers then performed automated analysis by overlaying and comparing each point cloud with the next to capture temporal changes in tree height, diameter, and shape. Using change detection monitoring, the city was able to identify when trees were required to be uprooted or trimmed.

man climbing ladder to fix power line

Additionally, power plants leverage digital twins (3D digital representations) of their facilities to identify potential shutdown risks. One such risk is fouling, the accumulation of ash and debris that frequently clogs critical infrastructure. Historically, fouling has been managed by inspection and intuition, which lacks precision and results in cognitive overload. By utilizing digital twins, power plant engineers can identify signs of fouling in real time, simulate when potential shutdowns may occur, and infer when maintenance is required.

3. Expedited Response to Service Disruptions

water main break with water shooting out

In the event of a service disruption, it is critical that utility engineers can quickly identify and respond to the root cause of an issue. 3D data adds an extra dimension to traditional monitoring and provides a more complete picture of facilities and equipment issues. For example, water leakage within a distribution network results in not only large financial losses for water utility companies, but also degraded service for their customers. In Tennessee, the White House Utility District (WHUD) identified high non-revenue water rates – the amount of water that is produced but does not reach the end consumer. To diagnose the root cause, they inspected the pipe’s 3D digital twin, visualizing the entire pipe infrastructure network. Used in tandem with acoustic leak detection, these digital twins pinpointed the exact locations of leaks within their infrastructure. Engineers were then able to assess options that resulted in better prioritization of pipe replacement. As a result, their infrastructure leakage index levels reached all-time lows.

Powering Utilities

The utility industry operates in a 3D world. With easy-to-use tools such as terrain elevation analysis, area and volume measurements, and 3D change detection, Stitch3D provides a powerful and collaborative cloud 3D platform to empower the utility industry in digital 3D.

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