This false-color (near infrared, red, and green) SkySat image collected on March 3, 2021, shows the state of vegetation surrounding distribution lines near Campo, Portugal. Four-band imagery helps provide needed information on vegetation health & vigor. © 2021, Planet Labs Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Curious Planeteer working to make the Earth's changes visible, accessible and actionable.

Taming Wildfires with Vegetation Management


Every year, wildfires consume millions of acres of land around the globe. Such fires triggered by a combination of electrical networks and extreme weather include the 100,277-hectare Lutz Creek fire in British Columbia, “Black Saturday” in Victoria, Australia, and the Camp Fire in California in November 2018, which destroyed over 150,000 acres, 13,972 residences, 528 commercial structures, and 4,293 other buildings, and took the lives of 86 people.

While a variety of factors contribute to wildfire ignition, the increasing climate crisis coupled with electric assets has led to some of the most damaging wildfires globally. Moreover, wildfires are also damaging to electric utilities, leading to financial distress. One of the tools to combat wildfire ignitions is preventative power shutoffs, especially in high-risk weather conditions to mitigate the chance of electrical equipment wildfire ignition. These preventative blackouts can have significant impacts on health, safety, and economic repercussions. 

One company seeking to make a tangible impact is Overstory

Overstory aims to help solve the climate crisis by providing real-time intelligence about the planet’s vegetation powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and satellite data. Today, Overstory helps energy companies to mitigate wildfires and power outages by improving the safety and reliability of the transmission and distribution system and reducing grid operation costs.

“We focus on electric utilities because it’s a clear case where we can help. We see climate change as the biggest existential crisis we’ve ever faced and we believe trees and plants are critical to mitigating climate change and also adapting to it,” said Indra den Bakker, CEO and Co-Founder of Overstory. 

Using machine learning to interpret satellite imagery and climate data Overstory extracts insights from Planet data, providing real-time information to its utility customers based on high spatial and temporal resolution satellite data, including multi- and hyperspectral imagery, SAR, and video. Moreover, by applying AI algorithms specialized in trees and vegetation, Overstory helps customers to predict grow-in and fall-in risks based on species, growth, weather and climate, and vitality. 

Overstory AI uses PlanetScope’s frequent coverage to monitor the timing of changes in vegetation near power lines, and SkySat’s high resolution to determine the precise condition of the right of way. © 2021, Planet Labs Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Overstory AI uses PlanetScope’s frequent coverage to monitor the timing of changes in vegetation near power lines, and SkySat’s high resolution to determine the precise condition of the right of way. © 2021, Planet Labs Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Current vegetation management is limited by outdated information about the status of vegetation. As vegetation is continuously changing, growing, and impacted by weather, utility companies need current and accurate information to plan and manage their resources more in advance, to anticipate future risks, and a means of verification to confirm if the work by third-party contractors has been completed successfully. Without proper verification, the work may not be completed, creating greater wildfire risk. 

“Our mission is to help solve the climate crisis by providing real-time information about the Earth’s vegetation. The availability of the combination of PlanetScope and SkySat images makes it a perfect fit for us and how we envision the future to have more data to analyze and improve decision-making. It has the frequency, level of detail, and scalability we need,” said den Bakker.

The costly economic and human toll necessitates the immediate need for vegetation management around utility to mitigate wildfire risk, especially in fire-prone areas. To reduce the risk of power outages and wildfire risks, predictive insights and up-to-date information about vegetation is needed for proactive vegetation management.

“The problem is that decision-makers don’t have access to accurate real-time data that’s up to date, they are not able to do the analysis or have trustable predictions for the future and this is where Overstory comes in. We are on a mission to provide that information for decision-making about our planet,” said den Bakker.  

The fusion of diverse spatial, spectral and temporal resolution powered by Planet imagery allows for real-time and predictive insights for informed vegetation management. Overall, the technology offers utility companies data to help understanding negation features, tree height, how close they are to power lines, proximity, tree species, verification of trimming, tree health, and damage. 

 “We want to play our part in creating a more sustainable planet, with a quantified impact on forest and climate. With Planet data we can improve decision making and expand our reach,” said den Bakker.

Download the case study to learn more about how Overstory is able to provide real-time information to its utility customers.