Science & Technology


February 12, 2020

The First ever Analysis of the Entire US Transmission Grid

by Ferdinand Fürstenau

US Transmission Grid with Vegetation closer than 30 ft (Source: Miguel Schmuck, LiveEO)

The largest machine on the planet is the US electric power grid with nearly 7 million miles of transmission and distribution lines. For the first time the entire transmission grid of the United States of America has been analyzed as one. All 574,000 miles of overhead transmission lines were investigated by LiveEO to determine the length of transmission lines threatened by vegetation.

In the last years reports of power outages caused by storms, hurricanes, wildfires or minor events like declining trees coming in contact with power lines have frequently reached the news. Actually, more than 50% of outages are the result of vegetation interfering with power lines.

To evaluate the number of miles of transmission lines exposed to vegetation LiveEO set out to analyze the entire US grid. Using satellite data, the only feasible way to acquire information on continent sized infrastructure and machine-learning algorithms LiveEO has completed this milestone setting task.

To investigate the encroachment of vegetation to over half a million miles of overhead lines more that 15.000 satellite images were gathered and processed. Using machine-learning algorithms the vegetation in an area of 90 ft to each side of the line was automatically detected and classified. In the last step of the process the length of every segment of the grid in the vicinity of vegetation was identified and compiled into the resulting analysis. This task was achievable due to the scalable structure of LiveEO's analytic tools.

Damages to trees after heavy storm (Source:Weners at de.wikipedia, Orkan Kyrill, Sturmkraftauswirkung im Detail, Tharandter Wald, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE)

Over 1.7 million mi² of imagery were processed to investigate even the most remote transmission lines. This amounts to about 45% of the total land area of the United States. The resulting analysis concludes that there are an astonishing 166,501 mi of transmission lines with vegetation encroaching closer than 30ft. Furthermore, the results showed that close to 300,000 mi are in larger vicinity of vegetation. This means a total of 50% of the transmission grid in the United States is exposed to vegetation closer that 90ft.

Such a large scale analysis is only possible by utilizing satellite data, which allows for the possibility to monitor continent sized grids at once. LiveEO provides this vegetation encroachment analysis to electric utilities, pipeline and railway operators in varying precisions and frequencies.

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