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Google leverages AI to map out UK Power Networks’ electricity cables

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Electrical Pylons

Mapping out electricity cables could soon be a lot easier thanks to a partnership between UK Power Networks and Google. 

Google’s DeepMind engineers have partnered with UK Power Networks, which delivers electricity across London, the East and South East, to create digital versions of maps covering more than 180,000 km of electricity cables.

DeepMind is using new image recognition software and artificial intelligence to digitise hand-drawn maps into a new digital format that will be easier to navigate in the future. 

UK Power Networks has provided maps that date back decades, with the hopes of making it much easier and quicker to navigate the thousands of kilometres of electricity cabling that is installed on the company’s network. 

Until now, no Artificial Intelligence software has been able to recognise hand-drawn straight lines and classify objects like electricity cables, then recreate them as fully-interactive digital files. The thousands of miles of cables owned by UK Power Networks is proving to be the perfect test bed for Google. Once the trial is complete, other utilities around the world could use the process to ‘digitise’ their own networks.

Utility firms currently have to manually scan maps of underground equipment to get electronic versions and each has an extensive library of maps to update. Experts estimate that collaborating with DeepMind means large chunks of the task can be finished three years faster than was previously thought possible – and up to ten times cheaper. For UK Power Networks, the AI is already cutting 20,000 hours’ scanning work down to 15 minutes.

Digital maps also mean UK Power Networks will be able to provide better, faster services to the 15,000-plus customers a year who apply for upgraded electricity connections when, for example, they need to connect renewable energy sites or Electric Vehicle charging hubs.

The company is also making the digital maps freely available to the industry, meaning energy battery operators, local authorities or energy aggregators can see where to plan new equipment, and bid for flexible energy market contracts. Each electricity substation, cable or overhead line will be visible, helping people stay safe when carrying out excavation work.

Alex Mahon, Head of Analytics at UK Power Networks, noted, “We’ve been collaborating with Google throughout the past year to trial this, and we’ve been getting increasingly excited throughout. Not only will it help keep people safe and help more low carbon technologies connect, but it has huge implications for utility sectors across the world who may wish to do the same. This innovation could save millions of pounds for customers and help enable Net Zero: that’s the power of digital innovation.”

UK Power Networks says that any money saved through the project will be re-invested in the electricity network. 

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