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Google develops world-first AI-powered electricity cable map software with UK Power Networks

Each electricity substation, cable and overhead line will be mapped out digitally through the project. Image: UKPN

Each electricity substation, cable and overhead line will be mapped out digitally through the project. Image: UKPN

UK Power Networks will be able to speed up its electricity connection upgrade services through a new partnership with Google involving digitalisation of its electricity cable maps.

Google’s DeepMind engineers have partnered with the distribution network operator (DNO) to create the digital versions of its electricity cable maps, which span over 180,000km of electricity cables.

In order to create these maps, new image recognition software scans thousands of maps and automatically remasters them into a digital format for future use.

Digital maps will mean UKPN 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 (EV) charging hubs.

It follows UKPN launching the AI-driven Smart Connect portal in 2021, which has enabled over 2,000 applications for low carbon technology installations to be approved in record time as of January this year.

The company is also making the new digital maps freely available to the industry, allowing battery operators, local authorities or energy aggregators to see where to plan new equipment and bid for flexible energy market contracts.

Additionally, each electricity substation, cable or overhead line will be visible, helping people to stay safe when carrying out excavation work.

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.

The companies said that experts have estimated that collaborating with DeepMind means large chunks of the task can be finished three years faster than was previously thought possible, as well as up to 10 times cheaper.

For UKPN, the artificial intelligence (AI) is already cutting 20,000 hours’ scanning work down to 15 minutes.

The companies said that until now, no AI software has been able to recognise hand-drawn straight lines and classify objects like electricity cables then recreate than as fully-interactive digital files, the two companies said.

They added that UKPN’s cables are proving to be the perfect test bed for Google, with other utilities around the world then able to use the process to digitise their own networks once the trial is complete.

Alex Mahon, head of analytics at UK Power Networks, said: "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.”

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