Recently, there has been an increased adoption of digital tools to carry out overhead line inspections like the use of drones and cameras to collect imagery or visual data and manually analyze them, but a more efficient and effective method of conducting those inspections is by completely digitalizing the process and using AI technology to analyze and sort out the data. Utilities are looking at software to check the health and performance of transmission and distribution assets as part of a suite of digital tools in order to create agility and safety on that side of their operations.

In an October webinar we did with Xcel Energy, Brian Long, Xcel Energy’s Project Director for Transmission Asset Management, clarified “The main reason we do this is to improve our inventory and really understand the condition of our assets.” With fast and robust data being sent to the utility through virtual inspections, utilities can have a clearer picture of the health and efficiency of their T&D network without sending work crews which saves time, gas and labor money, and reduces worker exposure to job hazards from lines and substations. AI-based inspection solutions can also find more defects than traditional methods, and can be used with modeling tools to help predict issues with assets on a timeline which can increase both efficiency and safety.


The main reason we do this is to improve our inventory and really understand the condition of our assets.



Brian Long
Xcel Energy’s former Project Director for Transmission Asset Management.

Virtual line inspections provide a wealth of data in conjunction with various sensors and other devices that can be utilized in the decision-making process for all sorts of applications beyond just asset health. The timing of investment decisions can hinge on which systems most need addressing, and having a complete picture of one’s systems through a synthesized data repository can inform and accelerate that process. More granular data can be used to target specific parts or aspects that need addressing rather than more costly replacements of an entire unit or system. Data can also be used to create efficiencies for field crews both in management’s ability to effectively allocate their efforts, and for the crews themselves if they have easy access to the data in the field. The whole of the utility apparatus can be more deft with these data and analytics tools.

The key to unlocking the business value of virtual inspections is a smart plan executed by skilled staff

On our podcast about AI misconceptions, eSmart System’s CTO Erik Asberg said:


I think people sometimes get disappointed when an AI tool doesn’t magically solve their problems. AI isn’t magic, it’s just a tool.

To get the best use out of the data and the analytics, a robust plan with buy-in from the entire organization is necessary to reach the most efficient applications of the data for the highest return of investment in terms of time, money, and safety. It is also prudent to ensure that staff is properly trained to utilize these tools, or partnerships are formed with skilled professionals familiar with these processes. Collaboration and partnership in general can help fill knowledge gaps for an organization looking to onboard more advanced systems. The tools at our disposal are capable of synthesizing a lot, but they are only tools, we cannot forget the human element.

Concluding thoughts.

Throughout this year, we’ve seen many advancements in utility infrastructure and systems as they modernize for resilience and increasing customer expectations. Making the most out of data in transmission and distribution is both part of the modernization process and an accelerant of it. By creating efficiencies in this space utilities can open up resources for further investment and planning. Collecting data can allow for proactive decision-making on upgrading which makes the grid more resilient. With a clearer understanding of assets, workers can be better allocated and hazards can be identified faster. A utility with a good plan, knowledgeable partner, and trained staff that are kept up throughout the process can use virtual inspections alongside a suite of tools to improve not just their T&D, but the whole enterprise.

Contact us today and see how Grid Vision is transforming the way the world’s leading energy providers inspect and maintain critical infrastructure.

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