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3 AI technologies innovation leaders must consider for utility asset management (Part 3: Satellites)

Offering extensive geographic coverage and affordability, satellites can be part of a successful asset management strategy.

Following our deep dive on drones for utility asset management, we will now explore another type of AI technology: satellites.

Satellite technology has been around for decades and has matured over time—in fact, the first geostationary satellite was launched back in 1964. Nowadays, with improved technology and the help of advanced AI, satellite imagery is becoming more and more valuable, especially when it comes to certain utility asset management use cases.

Satellite technology has been around over 70 years. Photo by NASA on Unsplash

A sound asset management strategy should take into consideration different types of assets and their location on the grid, the level of details you need to capture, and determine for each use case which solution is the best fit. We’ll use the same consideration framework (data type and quality, cost, ease of use, scalability and safety) that we used for drones to help you determine how satellites can fit in your overall strategy for utility asset management.

Data Type and Quality

Within the realm of AI-driven utility asset management, satellites offer valuable insights into certain grid risks. One notable area where satellites prove useful is in helping utilities with vegetation management. They can help identify risks such as fire potential due to overgrown vegetation and determine high-priority areas that require trimming services. 

Satellites offer an easy way to collect data over a large geographical area. Photo by NASA on Unsplash

However, the granularity of satellites is limited, making it challenging to pinpoint individual triggers or components, like a single branch close to a conductor or the number of transformers on an asset. While satellite imagery excels at assessing broader risk areas, it lacks the fine detail required for pole-level analysis. It’s akin to viewing the landscape through slightly blurry glasses: the bigger picture is discernible, but finer points are lost. To address this, utilities often combine satellite data with technologies like LiDAR for more accurate per-pole data, especially crucial for risks like vegetation encroachment.

Lastly, although satellite-captured imagery offers expansive datasets, its accuracy and update frequency vary, impacting decision-making precision. Data retrieval may occur as infrequently as every six months depending on the system. For some utilities or service providers that leverage Google satellite data, depending on whether the area in question is rural or urban, data can be anywhere from 1-3 years old. To compensate for the lack of up-to-date data, alternative solutions like vehicle-mounted cameras can offer more agile situational awareness for your grid. As utility leaders navigate these challenges, considering other AI-powered asset management solutions that complement satellites is crucial. 


Examining the cost efficiency of integrating satellite technology into utility asset management reveals a notable advantage. Compared to traditional data collection methods, satellites offer an economical approach as they can cover broad geographical areas. However, an essential consideration arises regarding the trade-off between cost and data granularity. Satellite technology has a low initial investment given that the hardware portion is already taken care of. The bulk of the costs are linked to data retrieval and subsequent analytics services. This financial feasibility aligns well with utility budgets and financial considerations.

There are over 8000 satellites orbiting Earth as of 2023. Photo by NASA on Unsplash

To help you ground what this represents in terms of total cost for your grid, let’s do some quick math together. The U.S. territory covers 9,826,675 square kilometers with 185 million distribution poles. This results in an average of 19 distribution poles per square kilometer. With satellite data retrieval costs of $20 per square kilometer, this comes out to just over $1/pole. Note here that this estimate is only for the data collection step and does not include additional analytics that need to be run in order to derive actionable insights. 

However, despite its cost efficiency, the data granularity limitation becomes evident—if utilities want to derive more detailed insights, they will have to leverage additional technologies to complement the satellite strategy. 

Ease of use

Satellite technology presents utilities with a notable advantage in terms of ease of use, primarily due to the extensive array of satellites that have already been launched into orbit. This abundance of satellites results in a relatively straightforward process of accessing essential data for various purposes. However, while this accessibility streamlines data retrieval, utilities will still need to leverage third-party services that possess the necessary skills to interpret and analyze the vast volumes of satellite-derived information effectively.

In response to the growing demand for satellite data analysis, a number of emerging companies have entered the scene to offer such services. Companies such as AiDash are at the forefront of providing tailored solutions that enable utilities to derive actionable insights from the satellite data they collect. These companies combine advanced algorithms and machine learning techniques to extract valuable information from the satellite imagery, thereby assisting utilities in making informed decisions about their assets and infrastructure.

There are several emerging companies developing AI models for satellite data. Source: AiDash

It's important to acknowledge that the frequency at which satellite data is typically updated can be a factor to consider in its usability. While satellite data refreshes approximately twice a year in many cases, this frequency might align well with certain use cases such as assessing the growth of vegetation or long-term changes in infrastructure. However, for applications demanding more immediate and frequent updates, such as near real-time fault detection or disaster response, this data refresh rate will fall short. 

In essence, while satellite technology indeed offers ease of access to valuable data, utilities need to carefully evaluate their specific needs and the inherent limitations of satellite data in terms of frequency and granularity. By leveraging third-party analysis and understanding the emerging landscape of specialized companies, utilities can harness the power of satellite technology to enhance their asset management strategies effectively.


Satellites offer an efficient means of covering expansive utility networks, a feat that traditional methods struggle to match and only a few modern AI systems also achieve. The ability to capture data over widespread territories in a single sweep enhances the utility’s capacity to manage assets across an extended geographic scope. This efficiency translates into both time and cost savings, allowing resources to be allocated strategically.

Satellite analysis of the entire US transmission grid with vegetation closer than 30 ft. Source: Miguel Schmuck, LiveEO

However, it's crucial to recognize that while satellite technology scales incredibly effectively, the data granularity tradeoff still exists. This limitation can result in gaps in the understanding of one's grid, hindering asset management precision. While satellites offer valuable insights into broad risk areas, they might not deliver the level of detail required to comprehend nuances at the individual asset level.


One of the most compelling advantages of satellite-based utility asset management is the enhanced safety it brings to the forefront. Remote monitoring facilitated by satellites mitigates the necessity for physical interventions in potentially hazardous environments. This has profound implications for worker safety and risk management.

Utility leaders can find solace in the fact that satellite technology can keep a part of their workforce out of harm's way. By remotely monitoring assets, such as power lines near dense vegetation or remote substations, the need for personnel to venture into these risky areas can diminish. Satellite data enables utility leaders to identify potential hazards and areas of concern without exposing their workers to unnecessary dangers.

Satellites make it easy to retrieve data on from remote areas. Photo by Donald Giannatti on Unsplash

Nonetheless, it's important to acknowledge that while satellite technology enhances safety, local human expertise remains vital to achieve the desired level of granularity in asset management. 

In essence, satellite-based utility asset management contributes to a safer working environment. The technology's ability to remotely monitor assets minimizes physical risks, offering utility leaders the comfort of safeguarding their workforce while more efficiently managing their infrastructure.



  • Cost-effective on a per pole basis
  • Satellites efficiently monitor vast geographical areas, translating to significant time and cost savings depending on the use case
  • Satellite-based remote monitoring reduces the need for physical interventions in hazardous environments, prioritizing worker safety


  • Lacks the granularity compared to that of other data collection methods
  • Requires integration of complementary technologies to address use cases that necessitate higher-resolution data (for example, asset geolocation, pole-top component inventory and defect detection)
  • Variable data refresh rate can result in outdated insights

Delving into satellite technology for utility asset management reveals its scalability and potential for comprehensive insights in power grid management. The technology's combination with modern AI offers a promising solution for utility-specific applications. Although satellite data excels in covering broad areas, the compromise lies in data granularity. While being fairly cost-effective and user-friendly, it also enhances safety and scalability. However, considering its limitations, utility leaders must align their requirements with the technology's strengths and supplement its weaknesses with the strengths of other categories of systems presented in this series of articles to achieve a resilient asset management approach.

As utility company innovation leaders strive to craft sound asset management strategies, the next article in this series will delve deeply into another high-impact modern AI solution for grid management: vehicle-mounted cameras.

Juliet Su

Director, Product Management

Juliet has spend the past 7 years designing and managing technology products, and is responsible for planning and managing the product development process at Noteworthy.

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