From automated intelligence, drones and lasers to man’s best friend, SP Energy Networks is leaving no stone unturned to keep the lights on amid the worst of weather this Winter.
The power firm, which keeps electricity flowing to 6 million people across 3.5 million homes and businesses, has been trialling the use of a specially trained detection dog to help find some of the network issues that could lead to power cuts.
Jac the springer spaniel had a 100% success rate at a recent visit to an SPEN site where an artificial fault had been created to test the dog’s abilities, finding the location under asphalt on the first attempt. The cunning canine also used his nose to point to another fault it hadn’t been expected to find.
The pilot is continuing and forms a small part of SPEN’s wider arsenal against the worst the weather can throw at the power network this winter.
The network operator already expects to see fewer faults needing repair thanks to an innovative system that can spot potential faults before they even happen.
In a UK first, a new LV (Low Voltage) Support Room is using advanced monitoring technology to provide real-time information on supplies across its operating area north and south of the border.
It analyses data produced by smart meters and electricity substations to highlight where a potential fault might occur on the network, helping engineers find exact locations where repairs are required, sometimes before power drops and customers are even aware of an issue.
It was established as a permanent part of SP Energy Networks’ operations following a trial that identified 30 ‘pre-faults’, saving an estimated £60,000 in equipment damage, stopping power cuts, and reducing the amount of time customers were without electricity during repairs.
All of which complements the inspections of the poles and wires that transport electricity around the country that’s been ongoing all year round.
Using drones to identify areas of maintenance and helicopters equipped with LIDAR laser technology that scans whether trees have grown too close to power lines, the company has been carrying out inspections and maintenance at key locations.
Scott Mathieson, SPEN’s network planning and regulation director, said: “Our teams prepare for winter weather all year round and we’re working hard to be ‘storm ready’ for the months ahead.
“It’s important we explore every avenue to either prevent the unplanned outages weather can bring or to make sure that, if they do occur, we can restore power to people’s homes and businesses as quickly and as safely as possible.
“Our cutting-edge technology means we can see in real-time how the network is both operating and being used. We’ll continue to innovate to keep the lights on for our customers – and it’s been interesting to see how man’s best friend can help out too.”
SP Energy Networks is responsible for 105,000km of network and 30,000 substations. The normally storm-resilient network was severely damaged in places when Storm Arwen brought winds of over 110mph in places.
Scott Mathieson added: “In general we’ve have seen around 25% fewer faults caused by winter weather than a decade ago, which is down to the investment in making the network more resilient.
“Storm Arwen was unlike anything we have seen in recent memory with wind speeds last measured as high in the 1950s. However, it’s a stark reminder of the impact extreme weather can have and the unplanned outages that can result.
“When weather-related power cuts happen, we will work around the clock to get supplies back on but we always encourage our customers to be prepared just in case.”
SP Energy Networks is also reminding all customers ahead of the winter season to ensure they keep the national 105 emergency power cut number close to hand so they can call them if their power does go out unexpectedly – no matter who they pay their bill to.
They are also promoting other essential safety advice to ensure customers are storm-ready, such as, storing a battery powered torch at home, being extremely careful to avoid fallen power lines and keeping their mobile phones charged to help them should a power cut occur.