WPD Uses Fugro Roames to Modernize Vegetation Management through Data Capture and Analysis

Executive Summary

Western Power Distribution (WPD) used Fugro Roames, a virtual world asset management solution built on Amazon Web Services (AWS) by AWS Partner Fugro, to gain visibility into the condition of vegetation near its network. The United Kingdom (UK) power distribution company wanted to modernize its vegetation management processes so that it could contract tree maintenance more efficiently and monitor its network area more proactively. WPD modified its helicopter fleet to collect light detection and ranging (lidar) data and adopted Fugro Roames to process and present its data using AWS. Now WPD can more accurately forecast vegetation management costs with its innovative approach to data capture, analysis, and management needs.

Rethinking Vegetation Management

Distribution network operator WPD delivers electricity to 8 million customers over a service area of 55,500 square kilometers in the UK. The company aims to provide stable, environmentally sustainable distribution—and has been working to enhance the efficiency and precision of its vegetation strategy. “Vegetation management is one of the biggest costs to us and our distribution network operator colleagues in the UK—hence the reason that we’re proactively trying to identify the most efficient, economical way to do it,” says Robin Tutcher, accountable manager at WPD’s Helicopter Unit. Since 1963, the Helicopter Unit has visually inspected WPD’s network to identify and address defects before they become faults.

To manage potential issues, WPD also relied on contractors to physically inspect the network and then cut the appropriate trees after obtaining landowner consent. However, the company wanted a digital solution so that it could actively monitor contractors’ service delivery and ongoing network needs. In 2018, WPD began engaging AWS Partner Fugro to help modernize the company’s vegetation strategy using lidar data gathered by its helicopter fleet. Fugro offered an advanced environment for processing, analyzing, and presenting the data—its global Fugro Roames solution—that could deliver results quickly and at scale so that WPD could issue instructions to its contractors with minimal delay from capture.

“Fugro delivers lidar data in multiple formats, so we can visualize and target problem areas in our network.”

- Robin Tutcher, Accountable Manager, Helicopter Unit, WPD

Achieving Speed and Scale on AWS

Geodata and critical infrastructure specialist Fugro collects and analyzes data about the physical environment, helping its customers to design, build, and operate their assets safely and sustainably. The global company, which has around 9,500 employees in 61 countries, provides site characterization and asset integrity services for marine and land environments. Fugro Roames—an acronym for “remote observation automated modeling economic simulation”—is the company’s virtual world asset management solution. It processes, analyzes, and stores lidar and imagery data and facilitates asset integrity for electricity infrastructure. “We identify critical clearance issues such as growing clearances and vegetation intrusions to keep the network safe and operable throughout its life cycle,” says Chris Boreland, business development manager at Fugro.

Fugro Roames uses largely automated routines running on AWS to store data and stream it into a virtual 3D model that delivers analytics on critical clearances. To store both raw and interpreted data, Fugro uses Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), an object storage service that offers industry-leading scalability, data availability, security, and performance. The solution uses Amazon S3 to load data into Amazon Aurora, a MySQL- and PostgreSQL-compatible relational database built for the cloud that combines the performance and availability of traditional enterprise databases with the simplicity and cost-effectiveness of open-source databases. To batch and model information for WPD, Fugro uses Amazon Redshift, which analyzes all data types across data warehouses, operational databases, and data lakes, using AWS-designed hardware and machine learning to deliver high price performance at any scale. And it controls costs by automatically archiving old or ancillary data using Amazon S3 Glacier and Amazon S3 Glacier Deep Archive—secure, durable, and extremely low-cost Amazon S3 cloud storage classes for data archiving and long-term backup.

To support WPD’s goal of accelerating data collection and processing, Fugro had to be able to rapidly process large volumes of data—in WPD’s case, around 10–20 TB of raw data per campaign. The company can scale up or down as needed to perform computationally intensive data calculations and manipulation using Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), a web service that provides secure, resizable compute capacity in the cloud. By using a suite of AWS solutions, Fugro can host, display, and deliver analytics for the large volume of information that WPD’s helicopter flights produce. “We have a requirement to process WPD’s data in 2–3 weeks,” says Boreland. “Without using AWS and gaining the power to scale up processing, we would struggle to generate the analytics that WPD needs within its time frame.”

Gaining Visibility and Enhancing Decision-Making

WPD previously managed vegetation using a 5-year cycle, contracting maintenance for about 20 percent of its network area each year. However, by using lidar data delivered on Fugro Roames, WPD can assign work to its contractors more intelligently and efficiently, reducing the process to a projected 4-year cycle. “Fugro delivers lidar data in multiple formats, so we can visualize and target problem areas in our network,” says Tutcher. “The solution enhances our knowledge about the vegetation on the network so that we can make more educated decisions about what to cut and when and where to cut it.” This enhances WPD’s efficiency because the company can triage its maintenance needs and reduce the manual effort and guesswork of its contractors, which also minimizes the company’s environmental impact. “We have an urgent need for more and better geodata,” says Robert Hoddenbach, Fugro’s global business line director of land asset integrity. “It’s a trend we see with utilities worldwide due to the increase in vegetation growth because of climate change and because the energy transition stresses the distribution networks. Getting fast and efficient insights to support a safe network is achievable using AWS architecture.”

Using the data from Fugro Roames, WPD’s team of arborists also can anticipate and proactively plan for future needs. “Our tree team can review trees that aren’t currently presenting a risk and are outside our statutory requirements,” says Tutcher. Also, WPD can forecast its costs more accurately. “The mathematical calculations of vegetation volume and length that we’re finding on a span-by-span basis, plus our ability to score that data into bands that contractors can use to set costs, mean that WPD has a highly accurate handle on how much each span will cost to cut,” says Boreland.

“Without using AWS and gaining the power to scale up processing, we would struggle to generate the analytics that WPD needs within its time frame.”

- Chris Boreland, Business Development Manager, Fugro

Using Innovation to Deliver Value

Building on its digital vegetation strategy, WPD is planning to use AWS as a portal for efficiently transferring data to Fugro and receiving published data from Fugro. WPD is also envisioning ongoing innovation—the company wants to continually improve its technology to find additional innovative use cases for its data and become more financially and environmentally sustainable. Supported by Fugro, WPD can continue working to increase the efficiency and impact of its vegetation strategy. “We aim to decrease the cost of looking after the network while increasing its value through the information that we can provide,” says Boreland.

Western Power Distribution

About Western Power Distribution

Western Power Distribution manages an electricity distribution network in the United Kingdom and delivers electricity to millions of homes and businesses. Its team of over 6,500 employees works to provide a safe, reliable distribution supply while minimizing environmental impact.

About Fugro

Global geodata specialist Fugro provides services in site characterization and asset integrity for marine and land environments, helping customers to design, build, and operate assets safely, efficiently, and sustainably. Fugro is an AWS Partner AWS Qualified Software offering.

Published December 2021