Bluesky has completed a multi-million dollar aerial mapping project to assess the impact of vegetation on the electricity network of East Anglia and southeast England. Working on behalf of UK Power Networks, Bluesky undertook the largest ever combined laser mapping and aerial photography survey commissioned by an electricity distribution network operator in the UK – some 34,000 square kilometers.

The laser mapped (LiDAR) data and aerial photographs were then analyzed to assess the proximity of vegetation to the overhead power lines in order to create a proactive three-year vegetation management program. Bluesky worked in partnership with ADAS, an agricultural and environmental consultant, to complete the project.

Dedicated survey planes equipped with a state-of-the-art LiDAR mapping system and aerial survey equipment flew the whole of the east and southeast England. Capturing millions of individual laser-mapped height measurements and approximately 310,000 aerial images in just over three months, Bluesky successfully completed the unprecedented data capture element of the project within tight project deadlines, in challenging weather conditions and adhering to strict air traffic restrictions.

The 80 terabytes of raw data was then processed and analyzed to identify which overhead line spans had vegetation infringement; for example the length of vegetation infestation along each span and its location and distance from the overhead line.    

This information has now been incorporated into a 3D web portal that can be viewed from the desktop, enabling UK Power Networks employees to carry out virtual patrols of the network, saving time and reducing the risk of foot patrols, sometimes across difficult terrain including physical barriers such as rivers, ditches, livestock and numerous other potential hazards.

“The risk-based tree-cutting program will help reduce tree-related power cuts for customers, with the additional benefit that it could be carried out without any disturbance to local landowners because it was done from the air rather than on foot,” says Colin Barden, head of network operations at UK Power Networks.

Rachel Tidmarsh, managing director of Bluesky, adds, “Prior to commissioning the LiDAR and aerial mapping project, UK Power Networks undertook regular manual surveys as part of its assessment of network resilience, but the capture of LiDAR and associated aerial photography for the entire catchment area allows for evidence-based decision making and long term planning, and provides a proven solution for other network operators.”