Insights > Technology Drives Vegetation Management, So We Stay One Step Ahead of Mother Nature
Did you know that trees and other vegetation can be a major cause of power outages? We work year-round to maintain a robust vegetation management program whose sole purpose is to protect the power lines that provide power to customers’ homes and businesses from the growth of plants and trees.
Meet Don Adcock, who oversees Entergy’s vegetation management program. Don’s team manages approximately 92,000 miles of overhead power lines. To put this in perspective, the circumference of the world is just under 25,000 miles. That’s three and a half trips around the globe.
“We use a variety of technologies, including computer modeling and satellite imagery, to help efficiently manage such a large geographic area that is native to nearly 100 different tree species,” Adcock said. “Spreading more than 94,000 square miles, we see a number of unique challenges with vegetation. Many trees, for example, are able to grow to heights that affect our distribution lines.
Did you know?
- It is common to have trees growing up to 100 feet tall in our right-of-way corridors, some even reaching 160 feet.
- Fast-growing species, such as the black willow tree that can grow six to seven feet each year, are capable of growing from ground level to our lines in just three to four years.
- Seed production is constantly repopulating a new generation of trees to maintain, such as the water oak, which drops about 20,000 acorns per tree, per year.
- The seeds of some species present even greater challenges than additional growth, such as the gum tree which produces seed capsules with spiked balls. These seeds easily jam lawn mowers or worse, become fast-moving projectiles if shot from the side of the mower deck.
- We also have threats like the locust tree, which produces thorns up to eight inches long that can tear holes in tires and go through the soles of shoes when stepped on.
Artificial intelligence helps predict vegetation growth
Our two main sources of power outages related to vegetation are limbs or trees hanging on the line outside the right-of-way. In 2020, we introduced the use of artificial intelligence to predict vegetation growth on feeders, the main distribution lines used to transmit electricity to customers’ homes or businesses. The technology takes into account tree species, growth rates, customer density, environmental conditions and vegetation clearance by conveyors to determine a natural cycle for each feeder throughout the system and generate a critical point for prioritization. This information, combined with field observations, is used to identify which areas need to be cut in a given year to prevent customer disruptions due to growth and allow resources to be shifted to more impactful areas.
The team also uses satellite imagery to detect the distance, both horizontally and vertically, between our lines and trees to identify areas that need attention. Utilizing historical satellite imagery also allows us to create a growth rate model to predict an optimal pruning cycle for each segment along the system. While the technology is complex, the production is fairly simple, we cut circles with faster growth rates more often.
Supporting landscapes and tree health
As part of maintaining an efficient schedule, we only trim trees when necessary and make extra efforts to maintain tree health to the greatest extent possible. To do this, we follow the specifications developed by the International Society of Horticulture. Except this, Arbor Day Foundation has repeatedly named Entergy a Tree Line USA as a result of our commitment to the proper pruning, planting and care of trees in our service area. Learn more here.
The storm is ready
Our year-round storm preparations include a vegetation management program and a ground-to-sky objective cutting vegetation, which removes tree limbs that would normally be over the power line. Throughout the year we also maintain minimum standards such that each pole worked is assessed for any potential vegetation problems and problems are resolved.