Artificial intelligence could halve the number of power cuts

Artificial intelligence could help predict and prevent power cuts before they happen using new technology being developed by Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) in collaboration with UK Power Networks (UKPN).

The innovative project called ‘Synaps’ will be the first time that leading-edge AI technology and ‘big data’ have been used to improve network reliability. If the trial is successful and rolled out across the network it could potentially help halve the number of power cuts.

The project will enable engineers to use a library of ‘big data’ drawn from the network, in conjunction with artificial intelligence, to predict and locate a potential fault on network equipment before it occurs.

The technology works by analysing the waveforms of the electricity voltage an incredible 100,000 times per second, and identifying when anything slightly unusual is happening in the cables. SSEN and UKPN are working with Powerline Technologies, who have developed a solution that will build up a library of all the measurements the technology makes.

Artificial intelligence then compares each new measurement to the vast library of data to spot any trends, patterns or irregularities. Over time, the machine will build up its knowledge and ‘learn’ to recognise conditions that can cause a fault on the electricity network.

Kevin Dennis, Innovation Project Manager at SSEN, said:

“We are delighted to work in collaboration with UK Power Networks, the Energy Innovation Centre and Power Line Technologies to develop and trial an innovative solution to help us identify faults on our network and improve the service we provide to our 3.8 million customers. Ofgem’s innovation funding provides us with the opportunity to work together to trial artificial intelligence for the benefit of the wider industry and the customers we serve."

Rona Mitchell, Innovation Engineer at UK Power Networks, added:

“There is a lot of talk about artificial intelligence and machine learning, but this is an example of it being put to a really practical use, in a way that’s going to benefit our customers by helping us to run an even more reliable network at lower cost.”

Brian Lasslett CEO at Powerline Technologies, said:

"The introduction of the Synaps innovative machine learning will enable distribution network operators to proactively manage their networks through preventative maintenance to repair faults before a hard failure, implementing real time network monitoring to minimise impact of faults on customers.”

If successful, the trial could enable a product to be developed that could cut the number of faults on low voltage networks by half. The device is set to be trialled on UK Power Networks and SSEN’s networks in 2019 and, if successful, could be installed across electricity networks from 2020.

The £680,000, 14-month project is being run jointly by the companies, and is funded by the regulator Ofgem’s Network Innovation Allowance.

About the author

Van on rural road

Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks

We're responsible for maintaining the electricity networks supplying over 3.7 million homes and businesses across central southern England and north of the Central Belt of Scotland. We own one electricity transmission network and two electricity distribution networks, comprising 106,000 substations and 130,000 km of overhead lines and underground cables across one third of the UK. Our first priority is to provide a safe and reliable supply of electricity to the communities we serve in Scotland and England.

Read more articles by Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks