Counties Power

The PAL-GPR System - a fast, accurate and economic precise all-terrain location system

In a world first, Counties Power designed and built its own all-terrain ground penetrating radar (PAL-GPR) system that is capable of giving a three-dimensional view of assets underground.

The vehicle - which was designed to suit local conditions and can navigate footpaths, roads and berms - captures accurate, high-speed, high-resolution data.

The data generated is accurate to within one centimetre and helps Counties Power determine where it should lay its underground electricity lines while avoiding damage to existing underground assets.

Causing damage to pipes is a significant risk to contractors and can lead to costly interruptions, which served as the catalyst for the GPR technology’s development.

Counties Power says it is now enjoying lower strike rates, improved safety, higher productivity and greater reliability of supply. The new system is also providing better records of what lies underground.

Key elements

The PAL-GPR system was created by integrating a number of advanced technology components. It incorporates a pre-commercial array radar from  Italian manufacturer IDS featuring 24 radar channels, 600 MHz and two offset linear arrays with spatial resolution of 4cm. Enhanced location sensing is provided by Canada-based Applanix , which increased accuracy to within 1cm. The transport system from Finnish company Avant has been custom-built to be the world’s first suited for use on roads and berms, while a specialist GPR-CAD system from UK firm Macleod Simmonds has allowed the system to be both CAD and GIS capable making for easy updates of asset records.

The innovation offers important commercial benefits.  Counties estimates the repair bill for striking critical services, such as fibre optic cabling or a pressured sewer, at up to $50,000.

PAL-GPR lowers project risk at little or no additional cost for Counties Power itself, as it will for the other utility companies that have already expressed interest in the system.

It has also opened up a whole new revenue stream for Counties, with the potential New Zealand market alone representing tens of millions of dollars during the next five years.

News of the new system has spread quickly by word-of-mouth and it has already been used on sites from Auckland to Timaru. One case study that Counties Power highlights is Transfield Services’ use of the PAL-GPR to survey an area where the company planned to build a new radio tower at  Transpower’s Bombay substation.

The survey reported the location of all known services, and identified some unrecorded assets, which subsequently proved to be a septic tank and other services for a home previously on the site.

PAL-GPR raised a red flag prior to construction, avoiding a potential hazard for Transfield, while also providing additional information for the asset owner.


The Innovation in Electricity award category is sponsored by Gentrack