A company that manages tree risk to critical infrastructure has been awarded a grant by the European Space Agency (ESA).

UK-based Point4 said it will use the grant to support a jointly funded €2.1m ($2.5m) project aimed at using satellite data to better manage vegetation growth risk to power distribution services. 

The project is planned to run until March 2020 and so far includes distribution network operators (DNOs) UK Power Networks and Scottish Power Energy Networks.

More than 300,000 km of power lines need to be surveyed each year, costing more than £30m ($40m), Point4 said, while up to 30 per cent of electricity faults are related to vegetation interference. UK energy regulator Ofgem has estimated that vegetation management will cost the industry over £1bn between 2015 and 2023. 

The project aims to show how vegetation growth and the associated risk to power infrastructure can be managed proactively through better analysis and interpretation of LiDAR and satellite earth observation data. 

With this data, Point4 uses patented predictive modelling to map, analyze and identify the potential risks to power networks from tree growth. This helps to ensure the efficient and effective control of tree growth, reducing the risk of outages, storms and fires, while also significantly reducing maintenance costs, the firm said.

For the project, Point4 will partner with satellite services operator Inmarsat and its distribution partner Galaxy1 Communications to provide services including transferring on-site geo-spatial data via Inmarsat’s satellite network.

The amount of the grant awarded through the ESA’s Business Applications Programme was not specified.

Gonzalo Martin de Mercado, studies manager with the ESA, called the project “an exciting use of satellite technology to capture hard to access data accurately and cost effectively”.   

Peter Lang, a member of UK Power Networks’ innovation team, added: “This is a really sophisticated approach to managing a challenging issue that impacts on many of our overhead lines that run through thickly wooded areas in the countryside. Our priority is to maintain safe and reliable electricity supplies and this approach could save our customers money on unnecessary work while being better for the environment.”