Multimillion pound blueprint to boost reliability of power supplies

UK Power Networks, which distributes power to 8.3m homes and businesses, is starting a portfolio of 11 new projects

UK Power Networks is today launching a £6.4million blueprint to use cutting-edge technology including Artificial Intelligence to deliver the most reliable power supplies ever across London, the South and East of England.

The company, which distributes power to 8.3m homes and businesses, is starting a portfolio of 11 projects to trial new uses for AI, test new technologies and provide operational engineers with new equipment to take its service to the next level.

These new projects will build on the company’s continued efforts to reduce the frequency and duration of power cuts. From 2011-19 the network operator almost halved the number of power cuts, meaning people only experience a power cut once every three years, on average. Supplies are 99.9% reliable.

The projects all test innovative technologies to either predict power cuts before they happen, or give engineers more information about faults when they happen – so they can fix problems quicker. They include:

  • Installing 16 ‘fault anticipation’ devices at seven electricity substations in Suffolk, Sussex Kent and London. The devices detect, qualify and alert in real-time electrical disturbances on overhead lines and underground cables. This alerts engineers to a potential fault so they can get a head start and fix problems proactively.
  • Using software built with the British Geological Survey and the Met Office that factors in rainfall, cable density and soil characteristics to create a ‘heat map’ of where faults could arise a few days into the future. This will allow engineers to prepare and react to faults more quickly.
  • Testing new ‘fault passage indicators’ that automatically communicate to engineers where an electrical circuit might be damaged or obstructed, for example by fallen branches during a storm. It could mean engineers can locate a damage site 80% quicker without physically walking lines.
  • Trialling a new smart data algorithm in the MILES project, running to 2023. The system uses computer software connected to a series of sensors to show engineers a fault location within just a few metres.

Ian Cameron, Head of Customer Services and Innovation, said: “It’s critical we fund research and develop tools for our Net Zero carbon future, but we’re also determined to deliver benefits for our customers here and now. People rightly expect us to lead the way in reliability, safety and customer service at the lowest possible cost, and that’s just what we’re aiming to do with these projects.”

Dr. Federico Coffele, research and development director at the Power Networks Demonstration Centre (PNDC), an industrial research centre as part of the University of Strathclyde which works closely with the DNO on several projects, said:

“The PNDC continues to work closely with our partners UK Power Networks, alongside other distribution network operators, in order to accelerate the adoption of new solutions in a range of innovation areas.

“This has included the application of PNDC capabilities within validation of hardware and software, next-generation communications, and system integration so to ensure solutions are ready for field deployment. We look forward to supporting UK Power Networks in their efforts to improve network reliability, while delivering a system which will support the delivery of a Net Zero future.”

UK Power Networks’ innovation projects are primarily funded by energy regulator Ofgem’s Network Innovation Competition, and Network Innovation Allowance. For more details see Innovation Strategy or visit innovation website.

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