Powerline Bushfire Risk Can Be Cut, Says Vegetation Mapping Expert
The risk of powerlines sparking major bushfires can be significantly reduced with cutting-edge mapping technology, according to a visiting international expert. Chris Kelly – founder of US vegetation management software company Clearion – has been invited to Australia to advise utilities on how Geographic Information System (GIS) technology can help mitigate a chief cause of Australian bushfires.
His visit comes amidst growing scrutiny on bushfire risks posed by powerline failures, with details emerging they were the likely cause of last month’s Perth Hills crisis, which destroyed more than 50 homes.
GIS technology is already used to manage vegetation by some of North America’s biggest utilities – and Mr Kelly is working in close partnership with Australian GIS leader Esri Australia to bring the new approach to local utilities.
Mr Kelly said some of the measures currently being mooted to address the issue of wayward vegetation – such as disconnecting power supply during a fire – amounted to ‘tinkering around the edges’.
“Completely cutting power to communities at the risk of bushfires brings its own dangers, and other measures such as large scale vegetation cutbacks and the widespread insulation of powerlines are not affordable.
“What is needed is an end-to-end approach to vegetation management, which is what GIS technology can provide.
“The technology enables utilities to overlay assets and environmental maps with information about inspections, maintenance history, weather patterns and vegetation characteristics.
“This allows utilities to develop a risk profile of their networks and focus their vegetation control on the areas that are in the greatest danger of bushfires.”
Esri Australia GIS in Utilities expert Harry Kestin said the technology delivers an interactive, digital dashboard which provides greater levels of insight and situational awareness.
“For example, while a current vegetation management cycle might dictate trees near powerlines in a certain area should be cut back every three years, other uncontrollable external factors may come into play, such as drought or flood,” Mr Kestin said.
“GIS technology enables utilities to analyse these scenarios and delay or bring forward the cycle, which results in a safer environment, reduces over or under-servicing and delivers more efficient resource use.”
Mr Kestin said the system could also be accessed by mobile devices, which strengthened the communication chain between vegetation management strategists and workers in the field.
“Because everyone is connected to a centralised system, they are working from the same playbook,” Mr Kestin.
“This strengthens the system’s integrity, removing the chance of information being lost between the field and office or vice versa, and ensuring the work is being done in the right locations.”