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Surveying Substations with LiDAR

By Colliers Engineering & Design

Surveying Substations

Surveying substations is complicated. And believe it or not, conventional survey can increase the complexity. So, what are your options? Well, they all revolve around the use of LiDAR!

But before we jump into how it can help, we need to touch on the challenges it has to overcome.

Conventional survey requires the surveyor to be within the substation. This means they’re near energized equipment. So, to collect data, substation equipment requires proper lockout/tagout procedures which interrupts service. This process must be performed by a qualified technician, therefore increasing the required personnel needed on site. Then, once inside, limited time and restricted areas may hinder the surveyor’s ability to obtain all the data.

On top of this, some substations are built in tight spaces, while others span across large tracts of land. So, there’s no one method that fits all.

Utilizing LiDAR

LiDAR, or light detection and ranging, is a remote sensing method used for measuring the distance of an object on the earth’s surface. It illuminates its target with laser light and measures the reflection with a sensor. Used in tandem with cameras and GPS, LiDAR data can be used to create high-resolution digital models.

Substation LiDAR scan

In this case, LiDAR enables you to collect data with no interruption or shutdown to substation equipment. This means you don’t need a qualified technician to perform lockout/tagout procedures. And remember when we said restricted areas are another challenge for conventional methods? With LiDAR, if you can see it, you can survey it. So, surveyors don’t need to be physically within the space. Lastly, LiDAR can collect up to a million points per second (PPS), meaning surveyors can accomplish much more in half the time!

LiDAR Methods

There are many forms of LiDAR. So, no matter how big, small, developed or undeveloped the substation is, we’ve got an application that can help you. Let’s dive into the different types to figure out which one suits your needs!

surveying substations with Terrestrial LiDAR scannerTerrestrial LiDAR

The terrestrial LiDAR scanner (TLS) is the workhorse of substation scanning. It sits on a tri-pod much like a conventional scanner. The big difference? It collects up to 1 million PPS at a range of 250 feet within an 1/8-inch of accuracy. It’s ideal for substation sites that are compact or dense because it gathers highly accurate and detailed data from a safe distance. It can cut costs and meet multiple scopes in a single trip.

Mobile LiDAR

When a LiDAR is attached to a vehicle, it becomes mobile LiDAR. It can capture 1.1 million PPS at 300 meters and traveling between 15-80 MPH. This makes it ideal for spacious substations as you can drive through the site. It is especially beneficial if the driveway or access point is part of the scope. Pair it up with a TLS for any inaccessible spots.

Mobile LiDAR should be considered for substation sites that are larger than eight acres.

Aerial LiDAR scan of substation

Aerial LiDAR

LiDAR becomes aerial LiDAR when attached to an unmanned aerial vehicle, or a drone. It captures 500,000 PPS at 900 meters and traveling up to 25 MPH! This means it can collect acres to hundreds of acres of data in a matter of minutes. Like mobile LiDAR, you can pair it up with a TLS and get full coverage of the site.

It is ideal if you’re capturing orthoimagery or if the substation is looking to expand. It can also display transmission and distributions lines traveling to and from the station.

What Next?

The great thing about LiDAR is that the collected data is scalable, meaning there’s a range of different outputs available to you.

Low end outputs include basic information like measurements; typical details on poles, conductors and transformers; analyses on imagery captured; inspections; applications for vegetation management and construction monitoring.

High end outputs can include BIM or 3D models, topographic maps, foundation plans, as-built documentation and point cloud comparisons.

Regardless of the size or complexity of your project, LiDAR is a tool that can safely and effectively get the job done!

Want more information or a private presentation on this topic? Contact Dustin Spillman at

Webinar Series

This article is part of our Webinar Blog Series. We turned directly to the experts who were excited to share their latest technologies, insights and strategies. If you have questions or would be interested in a Lunch and Learn about any of the topics covered, feel free to reach out to our presenters!

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