National Grid looking to space to boost grid resilience

National Grid looking to space to boost grid resilience
Image: National Grid

National Grid is leading the ‘Eye in the Sky’ initiative to explore how space data could improve visibility on Britain’s electricity and gas networks.

The project, funded by regulator Ofgem and Innovate UK’s Strategic Innovation Fund, is investigating how satellite imagery and data analytics can help to monitor the condition of the distribution and transmission networks and changes to the surrounding environment on a continuous basis.

Traditional ways of monitoring the grid including ground patrols and aerial surveillance by helicopters are increasingly being supplemented by drones. But these may be unable to access the more remote parts of the network quickly, for example in the wake of an extreme weather event, and nor can they provide monitoring around the clock.

The project partners, which include the European Space Agency (ESA), Cranfield University, satellite data specialist Spottitt and assurance and risk management company DNV, estimate that the innovation could deliver £22 million (US$26.7 million) in cost savings over a decade, with further consumer benefits including faster emergency response, quicker system recovery and better grid reliability

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“Eye in the Sky is exploring the really exciting prospect of using satellites to monitor grid infrastructure and the surrounding area, helping us understand how and why networks are being affected,” explains Sean Coleman, innovation manager at National Grid.

“If a change is detected, the technology could inform an engineer on the ground who can analyse the data to make a more informed decision on how to respond. It could further streamline our processes and bring benefits to consumers in terms of cost and grid resilience.”

With the initiative, National Grid joins a growing number of utilities looking to draw value from the growing database of remote observations from space and AI-based data analytics that can deliver intelligence in near real time.

Specifically the project is looking at how satellite images and analytics can be utilised to assess changes to infrastructure and its environment, whether caused by geographic anomalies, extreme weather, natural vegetation growth or human interference, and enable more rapid assessment of risk or damage.

This in turn can lead to more efficient deployment of field teams to fix issues and network reconfiguration to avoid outages.

The technology also is considered to have potential to create predictive models for future events associated with climate change, with atmospheric sensors correlating with network data to improve understanding of the impact of weather events on the grid.

The initial ‘discovery’ phase of the Eye in the Sky project has been completed with trialling of its approach on over 2,700km of energy network. The concept is now being further developed into the ‘alpha’ phase, which commenced in August.