Birds-eye view drives cost savings at Western Power

Utility saves shoe leather and costs with nearmap

Government-owned WA electricity company Western Power has cut the cost of manually checking on swathes of its infrastructure by feeding up-to-date high-resolution aerial imagery into the company's GIS (geographic information system) setup.

In the first half of this year, the utility company broadened its use of imagery provided by Sydney-based nearmap, which delivers a Google Maps-esque Web service for enterprises and small business but at a significantly higher resolution – down to two or three centimetres – and with frequent imagery updates, as well as a mapping server that can be used to feed imagery into enterprises' internal GIS via the Web Map Service protocol.

Ian Baldwin is principal project coordinator at Western Power and has responsibility for a portfolio of projects pertaining to network asset data that supports the whole lifecycle of the utility's assets.

Baldwin's role involves directing projects that manage the data pertaining to the utility's infrastructure assets, including Western Power's spatial information systems and the information that flows into them.

After joining Western Power a few years ago and having had experience of using nearmap's offering at a previous organisation, he started looking at a business case for using the company's imagery for the Perth metropolitan area. Western Power began using the Perth imagery in the first half of last year, and then, seeing benefits in the product, extended the licence to cover the rest of the state.

Imagery is fed into Western Power via nearmap's WMS server, and then imported into the utility's Esri GIS as a layer, which can be overlayed with asset information.

Baldwin says the data is used "throughout the whole asset lifecycle". This is because Because nearmap is frequently updated by regular aerial surveys, so planners can get a sense of the lay of the land where assets will potentially be placed.

In addition, Baldwin says, "some imagery we hold can be quite old [but] if you’ve got something which is current, which is what nearmap provides, you have a pretty good understanding of what on the ground, negating having to go out to the site multiple times – 'this is stuff that we need to take with us'. So it’s good from a planning perspective."

The flipside is asset maintenance: nearmap's updates mean change detection is possible, Baldwin says. "Along vegetation corridors we might have some high-power transmission lines identifying where vegetation may be encroaching, and how quickly it encroaches into our area over a period of time. So that’s one area in the maintenance cycle where this imagery is actually assisting us in our day-to-day work."

"One of the main concerns we have is what we call ‘no action’ jobs," Baldwin says. "A no action job is where someone will be sent out to do a particular task and that task may have been done prior, or there was no reason for them to go out on that particular task. Imagery can in some cases show where a task have been completed negating the need for a site visit.

"A prime example of that would be vegetation management. You can actually run a corridor, as opposed to somebody going out there and running the whole length of the line to see whether or not there’s encroachment. [Looking at the imagery] they can identify areas of concern, which then we can then go and target."

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