The billionaire genius, Elon Musk, has said in an interview that the power needs of the entire U.S. can be met by solar panels, spreading across a fairly small corner of Texas or Utah. That is approximately 100×100 miles.
Now, contrary to popular belief, the issue with clean energy like wind and solar is not with generation, but with transmission. The current power grid is simply not equipped for transmitting the required electricity when switched to renewable energy. That is where a dire need for an improved national grid arises.
It is estimated that a nationwide high-voltage direct-current system, can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 80% compared with 1990 levels. However, the recommendation for creating a nationwide grid is still a proposal, and there are multiple reasons for that. Let’s find those out in this next section.
Why creating a nationwide grid is so challenging
Among numerous political, economical, and cultural reasons, there are a few that tends to stand out. So, let’s narrow down our focus to only those.
- Sun doesn’t shine every day and the wind isn’t always blowing
This may sound like a fair argument, but the situation is much more complex in reality. Firstly, the reason why wind and solar are combined is to reduce dependency. It’s common that solar benefits from summer, while wind power thrives in winter.
Secondly, contrary to the argument, meteorological data suggests that the sun is always shining somewhere and the wind is always blowing somewhere.
Hence, a transmission project based on renewable energy may not work on a regional scale, but it’s pretty reliable on a national scale.
- Transmission lines are unpopular and hard to get approved
Even though power transmission lines and towers are integral elements in becoming a carbon-neutral economy, they remain an unpopular activity among most people.
- Approval of policymakers and landowners
According to a study at Princeton, it is estimated that the U.S. would need to expand its power and transmission infrastructure by 60 percent by 2030.
Yet, the U.S. laws make it easier to build fossil fuel-related infrastructure than building transmission and power lines. Building a new line or tower requires approval from state and multiple local counties and agencies, which is often hard to get. That’s why Ari Peskoi, director of the electricity law initiative at Harvard says, if we want to see a nationwide grid become a reality, Congress has to do it. “It will require Congress”.
Now, it’s a fact that there are hurdles in creating a national grid, but all of them are worth tackling, at least in theory.
What is the number one challenge with our current grid?
Now, a nationwide grid would be ideal, but till then, the best option is to manage and optimize the current grid. For our current poles and towers, the number one thing interfering with them is vegetation. It is estimated that one-third of all power outages are caused by vegetation interfering with power and transmission lines. It makes sense that utilities spend millions of dollars in keeping their assets clear of vegetation. This act of managing assets from vegetation is called Vegetation Management.
Thanks to today’s technology, managing vegetation is easier than ever before. Nowadays, it’s common for utilities to use drone and satellite service for inspecting power and transmission lines. For instance, Aptimize is a breakthrough application that uses satellite data to determine the risk on the electrical grid posed by climate and environmental factors. Then, it can generate optimal intervention plans to keep risks at a minimum.
Now, let’s dive a little deep into advanced technologies for inspecting power transmission lines, power plants, and other electrical assets.
What are the latest technologies used for utility inspection?
One of the biggest challenges in asset management for utilities is inspection. On-ground or traditional inspection is time-consuming, costly, prone to human error, and less efficient. Hence, here are some best practices utilities can use for inspecting line towers, and other electrical equipment.
- Drones: It’s no latest news that drones are a breakthrough technology. Their use in power and transmission line inspection is highly efficient and cost-effective.
Drones allow utilities to significantly reduce collection time, and provide engineering-grade level data. That data can then be used to integrate with applications like Aptimize by Aplines to create optimal trim cycles.
Furthermore, airborne LiDAR (Light detection and ranging) is a unique capability of drones that can create accurate 3D models of entire lines and towers. These cloud models are incredibly useful for keeping vegetation risk in check.
- Satellite data and analytics: In recent years, utilities have started launching satellites to inspect vegetation around their power transmission lines.
Satellites can detect most types of vegetation risk- vegetation that grows under poles and tower as well as vegetation that is prone to fall.
Moreover, one major advantage of using satellites over airborne LiDAR is that satellites can work through fog or even during storms. This can be critical for reactive work during harsh weather conditions.
The need for an improved nationwide grid has been around ever since climate change became a pressing issue. It is a much-needed improvement for shifting to renewable energy like wind and solar. But till then, it is a good idea to keep the current grid working at its optimum by inspecting and managing it regularly. And the easiest way to inspect power transmission lines is to use technologies like Drone and Satellite and then integrate them with A.I. applications like Aptimize.
Aptimize is a breakthrough application that can calculate risk induced by vegetation, assess risk for each utility asset, and generate optimal vegetation management programs.
Moreover, it has a maintenance optimizer that can analyze your portfolio and use high-resolution satellite images to send the most optimal asset groups for maintenance.