Buzzin’ into the New Year: A 2021 Recap
2021 has been a tremendous year for Buzz Solutions as a wave of digitization continues to sweep across the utilities market, with regulations driving further adoption of innovation, and government funding pouring into the industry. On one hand, this year brought a range of challenges from grid-related climatic disasters to continued Coronavirus restrictions, both of which have driven a push toward the needed adoption of technologies such as IoT, AI and analytics, remote sensing and digital transformation. On the other hand, this year has also brought incredible growth in the space, with the passing of the Infrastructure Bill.
The passing of the Infrastructure Bill has shown a light on the need for larger investments in maintaining and upgrading grid infrastructure, as well as deployments in innovative technology. Some utilities such as New York Power Authority have already publicly claimed their intention of becoming a fully digital utility by the year 2030, while many other utilities are setting their sites on similar goals of transitioning into the digital world, opening doors for huge opportunities for electrification and renewables to come onto the grid efficiently. With the wave of digital transformation, the need for big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning has never been more important.
2021 Market Recap for inspections
The past few years have driven an increasing need and push toward remote sensing, including the global coronavirus pandemic, drastic climate events, and the wave of digital transformation.
On one side of the spectrum, massive outages swept through Texas in February due to extreme storms, while on the other side, multiple grid-sparked wildfires tore through California in the heat of the summer. Further, the coronavirus pandemic limited the ability to work in close proximity.
Firstly, uncertainty continues to dominate the markets as new variants of Covid-19 emerge and cause panic, this makes it complicated for utilities to strategize for the future given their demand continues to face fluctuations and may worsen if the pandemic worsens. Thus, large capital investments in infrastructure may slow down and affect the innovation rate of the industry.
Secondly, persistent natural disasters have increased the incidence and risk of power outages across the US. In 2021 alone, we saw a range of drastic climate-related events, from Texas freezing in February to California sparking further catastrophic wildfires such as the Dixie Fire in July. Consequently, these continued disasters have led utilities to advocate for and implement smart grid technologies and push for the modernization of electric assets; thus, mitigating the risk of climate-based infrastructure issues. Moreover, it is encouraging to see major players in the space stepping up to mitigate the effects of climate on the electric grid. For example, Duke Energy partnered with the state government of North Carolina and proposed a $13 billion bill to modernize the state’s grid infrastructure. Additionally, Southern California Edison plans to spend 20% of its 2021 budget exclusively on wildfire mitigation, leading the way for other major California utilities.
With the aggressive US climate and electrification goals, the US grid must be robust enough to sustain the stress and the load. In terms of governmental efforts we have seen the $73 billion in funding for power infrastructure from the Infrastructure Bill in 2021, which aims to decrease the $208 billion electricity infrastructure investment gap in the US.
Where is the Innovation Happening?
As innovation investment pours into the space, the digital transformation in industries, also being referred to as Industry 4.0, is playing a major part in bringing innovative and efficient solutions to various parts of the market. This digital transformation is instrumental in bringing data-driven solutions for business problems and plays a critical role in modernization of our grid. Utilities increasingly begin to modernize their physical assets in response not only to aging infrastructure, but also to climate and risk mitigation concerns. For instance, smart grid adoption has occurred in 47 states, as well as the District of Columbia, during Q1 of 2021 alone. And the global market for smart grid and grid modernization is expected to grow by 8.7% annually between 2021-2026, as utilities continue updating their infrastructure.
One of the critical areas for investment lies in monitoring of grid infrastructure, starting with more investment in inspections. This modernization has included the integration of UAVs/drones and BVLOS inspections to their analytics workflow. This year has brought a record number of drone inspections, with many investor-owned utilities collecting millions of images annually.
In the domain of asset and vegetation management for utility transmission and distribution infrastructure, there is continued exponential growth of adoption of technologies such as UAVs and drones, IoT sensors, AI and Machine Learning and decision driven analytics. Major power utilities such as SCE, Xcel Energy, FPL, AEP, Duke Energy, PG&E, Southern Company, Exelon, SDG&E, Ameren, ConEdison, New York Power Authority and others are moving towards extensive in-field data capture using mobile sensors, such as photogrammetry from drones and UAVs, and stationary IoT sensors in order to model the behavior of the power line and assess their asset conditions.
In 2021, the market has also been booming for more clearances for beyond visual line of sight inspections, including large increases in waivers secured for the Part 107.31 Visual Line of Sight Clearance. This year, there were 43 new waivers granted, compared to 17 in 2020, 12 in 2019, and 12 in 2018. Moreover, Canada has already approved drone inspections in remote areas without the need for any sort of certification, which has completely transformed the drone inspection market in North America. This trend provides a huge step in the path toward automated drone inspections, which are the wave of the future.
Where does AI fit into this process?
The inspection does not stop with the data collection. In fact, the data collection is just the beginning. The need for visual data management, AI processing, and asset tracking is critical to enable and derive actionable insights, creating a more efficient inspection process. Turning big data into actionable insights, which seamlessly integrates with existing workflow systems of utilities, is where the real value lies. In order to have a holistic view of line and asset health, utilities must be able to translate in-line data, visual line data, structure inspection data, and surrounding landscape information into a comprehensive portfolio, enabling them to understand where the biggest issues lie and where the system may be at the biggest risk of failure. With advancements in AI and compute capabilities, these organizations are turning towards AI-based automated and predictive solutions to analyze this in-field data and provide actionable insights.
Using each piece of information cohesively, both within the line and around the line opens the door of tremendous opportunity for painting a full picture of line health and can allow for even greater optimization of infrastructure capabilities. A prime example is the energy and power sector, where in recent years, traditional processes are getting revolutionized by data driven approaches. Some of the approaches being implemented include:
Scaling up new businesses enabled by digital technology
Capturing value from data by making use of machine learning and artificial intelligence
Implementing fully digitized end-to-end processes
Upgrading their IT systems with new digital technologies
Enabling their workforce for the digital age
These processes are relevant across various divisions of the energy sector, including power generation, transmission and distribution, energy retail, energy trading, renewables, electric vehicles, demand response and other distributed energy resources.
Successes for Buzz Solutions
The key to bringing an efficient digital transformation in power utilities and providing efficient solutions is to have AI/ML and data driven processes be an integral part of the workflow. This includes setting up end-to-end pipelines for AI-based automation products and solutions and integrating them with existing utility workflows to drive actions.
This is where Buzz Solutions can bring real value by focusing on delivering integrated AI solutions to power utilities that will help them achieve their business goals of being fully digital utilities. Customers can easily integrate our seamless inspection process into existing work order systems and data infrastructure, including the capability to manage, upload and process visual data and securely integrate our AI plugins, APIs, and microservices with existing platforms. Our services also include accurate locations of structures by geo-mapping assets in the field to their precise location via drone and helicopter captured imagery.
With a record number of users on our platform, Buzz was able to gather more hands-on insight of the fine details of the utility inspection process. This fostered the creation of improved platform capabilities to ensure each customer’s inspection process is as seamless and easy as possible. This includes newly improved collaborative tools on the platform, enabling customers to easily prioritize structures for review within each project, and notifying other inspectors of actions that must be taken in the inspection process. The platform optimizes the UI experience by providing visual insights for both transmission and distribution projects, allowing users to inspect, review, and tag hundreds of images per structure in a timely manner.
Furthermore, Buzz Solutions inspection solutions enabled significant time, money, and effort savings put forth in their inspection process with average savings of up to 55% compared to the cost of manual inspection analysis. Our AI algorithms provide high accuracy results with our proven competitive advantage of 4x more faults detected and nearly 3x the accuracy rate. Our improved accuracy was seen when we had a great win this year in a large New York utility bid, with our leading technology providing 85% accuracy in asset anomaly and structure detection. With our new Human-In-The-Loop technology, inspector tagged faults and anomalies data enables our AI algorithms to increase in accuracy and precision quicker than ever before and allows personalization of anomaly detection to each client’s asset needs.
Buzz Solutions PowerAI software platform providing end-to-end digital and AI-based solution for power grid infrastructure inspections
Where does Buzz go from here?
Looking forward into the New Year, Buzz Solutions has many exciting plans on the horizon, including new customer projects and product line expansions. One of the main priorities in the new year is the intake of LiDAR data to improve vegetation management functionality. With utilities internationally deploying large-scale visual drone inspections across their critical infrastructure, many have begun to explore additional capabilities that are possible with drone technology. In 2021, the long-awaited LiDAR sensor deployments on drones finally arrived, unlocking massive potential for more cost-effective LiDAR inspections. LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) is a type of laser sensor that uses light to generate 3D reconstructions. It is often used for creating maps of land and is commonly used in self-driving car technologies. With infrastructure inspections, LiDAR has become commonly used in the vegetation management use case and the need for an AI solution grows stronger as this type of sensor data becomes more prevalent.
Beyond the further expansion of current algorithm capabilities and sensor functionality, Buzz Solutions aims to stay ahead of the curve on the wave of the digital transformation. Big data and Artificial Intelligence plays a major role in the automation and data-driven processes of the digital transformation workflow. We continue to see various antiquated industries adopt AI-based solutions as products in their workflows to drive up efficiency. We expect a continued acceleration into 2022 and beyond electrification and digitization. As the backbone of our economy, the grid must be smarter and resilient in order to sustain the stress of electrification and renewable energy resources. Therefore, the time to maintain and upgrade our grid infrastructure is now, and the time for investment in innovative technologies has never been more pressing. Buzz Solutions is looking forward to supporting utilities in this transition in the new year and the years to come.
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