Open Innovation Challenges

Wildfire Ignition Prevention

Open Challenge: Reducing labor required for vegetation management

Wildfire Ignition Prevention
Deadline for concept summaries: January 14, 2021

Sponsored by

pg&e logo

Problem

As vegetation contact can be a major driver of wildfire ignitions, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) requires specific clearances around power lines. By making current advanced practices of onsite vegetation management more efficient, utilities can reduce risk on the many thousands of line-miles in High Fire Threat Districts (HFTD).

Desired properties

  • Automated or robotic vegetation management solutions that can operate in difficult terrain such as mountainous ravines
  • Automated and/or unmanned surveying solutions for vegetation

Specifications

Category 3: Reducing labor required for vegetation management

Problem statement

Across the industry, vegetation management is a key component of risk reduction, particularly now and for years to come as system hardening and other longer-term risk-reduction efforts cannot be accomplished immediately. Though onsite vegetation work is critical, it is inherently constant, labor-intensive, and complex as both planned and unplanned management needs vary in scope and urgency and must be managed by a limited availability of qualified workers.

Possible approaches

Any technical solution or equipment innovation that reduces vegetation management labor costs is welcome. Novel, cost-effective approaches to surveying—limiting the pre-work design, planning and vegetation removal assessments—is one approach. Another area of interest is optimizing labor through automation, such as robotic or otherwise efficient and nimble vegetation pruning and removal, particularly in sloped, mountainous, and/or vegetation-heavy areas.

Industrywide Market GapPotential Solution Category
Dispatched teams often have trouble
simply accessing lines
(e.g., hiking ravines, navigating
and even cutting-through thick vegetation)
to do pre-work design,
planning, and vegetation removal
assessments.
Cheaper and faster surveying
of vegetation and access
impediments via drone,
radar, satellite images, etc.
Especially in sloped, mountainous
and/or vegetation-heavy areas, it can
be difficult and laborious (and
hazardous) to perform manual
vegetation pruning and removal.
Robotic or otherwise
efficient and nimble
vegetation pruning and
removal

 

Known approaches not of interest

Software-based and procedural/managerial solutions are not of interest.

Key success criteria
Required:
  • At least 35% reduction in cost for the same wildfire risk reduction or at least a 35% reduction in wildfire risk at the same cost (see cost / risk reduction curve below)
  • Demonstrated improvement of current state of the art technology
Desired:
  • Capable of 3-D mapping and/or pruning vegetation of varying heights in difficult terrain, such as steep slopes and mountainous ravines
  • Commercially deployable in 1 to 3 years
  • Labor and safety-enhancing technology (i.e. autonomous equipment)



*Note that this graph is illustrative and not necessarily representative of current costs.

More solicitations...
Active

As system hardening focuses on updating overhead lines and equipment, PG&E has to consider over 30,000 line-miles of transmission and distribution assets in High Fire-Threat Districts in its operation. Industry-wide adoption of lighter, stronger, and/or more heat-resistant infrastructure has been limited by cost, availability and longevity.

Active

PG&E operates over 30,000 line-miles of Transmission & Distribution (T&D) assets in High Fire-Threat Districts (HFTD). Current state-of-the-art technologies to detect faults in real-time and prevent ignition from these faults can reduce risk, but remain expensive, slow to install, and require tuning and maintenance to be effective.

Active

Undergrounding distribution power lines eliminates almost all risk of infrastructure-caused wildfire ignitions; however, the process can be costly, slow, and bounded by physical limitations and irregular terrain. While these constraints have limited the extent of undergrounding in the utility sector, efforts to bring conduit at or below grade could be accelerated if the process could be faster and less costly.