• Utilities
  • Asset Performance Management
  • Transmission and Distribution
  • Risk Management
  • Grid Resilience

Leveraging APM Software to Mitigate Wildfire Risks

Francesco Radicati
Jul 19, 2023


Utilities are increasingly turning to asset performance management (APM) software to ensure the reliability of their networks. Using AI and machine learning, APM can help predict when transmission and distribution (T&D) assets are likely to fail, and how critical each individual asset’s failure is likely to be. However, beyond ensuring the reliability of their networks, some utilities are now using APM to mitigate wildfire damage, a topic touched on in Guidehouse Insights’ recent APM Leaderboard.

Oregon Utilities Tap APM in Response to 2020 Wildfires

Living on the West Coast of the US since 2014, I’ve experienced effects of the region’s wildfires, though luckily always at a remove from the actual epicenters of the worst fires. That’s why I was interested to read about the work Israel-based mPrest has done with Oregon utilities PacifiCorp and Portland General Electric (PGE) to help them assess and mitigate fire risks.

PacifiCorp and PGE have used this initiative to change their approach to managing vegetation, upgrading T&D infrastructure, and determining where to shut off power during periods of high wildfire risk. The model built by mPrest for PGE, for instance, includes information on the company’s transmission assets, such as age and outage history, as well as local conditions like weather, vegetation, nearby homes and structures, probability of ignition, and likely response times.

Both companies undertook their activities in response to the 2018 Camp Fire in Northern California, which was caused by a faulty electric line, as well as multiple fires in Oregon over Labor Day weekend in 2020 that a class action lawsuit says were caused or worsened by PacifiCorp equipment. That same weekend in 2020, PGE was forced to shut off power to some of its territory to avoid further spread of wildfires.

What about Nonconnected Equipment?

My question to mPrest was about how they addressed equipment other than transformers or active power lines, since investigations into the Camp Fire indicated that the fire was linked to failure of nonelectric clamps and hooks that were overdue for replacement. The company explained that for such equipment, it’s possible to assign an effective age based on conditions, such as temperature or humidity, that can shorten the parts’ lifespan.

APM Technology Can Help Speed Up Inspections

One of the ways in which utilities are linking APM and wildfire mitigation is through the use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and drones in the utility T&D sector. According to Guidehouse Insights research into these systems, UAS and drone software and analytics revenue in North America came to $43.5 million in 2022 and is expected to grow to $238.4 million by 2030. One key driver for this growth will be utilities using UAS to meet regulatory requirements for visual inspections of infrastructure in high risk areas.

US utilities are estimated to conduct detailed inspections of around 10% of their T&D assets each year, meaning that the average transmission line is inspected only once every 10 years, whereas some regulators, like the California Public Utilities Commission, require visual inspections every 1 to 2 years and detailed inspections every 3 to 5 years. Utilities that invest in technologies like UAS analytics and asset management will be better positioned to meet these regulatory requirements, while lessening the likelihood of catastrophic shutdowns and wildfires.

To learn more about the APM market and vendor landscape, check out the recently published Guidehouse Insights Leaderboard: Asset Performance Management report.