Fugro’s virtual technology to model UK electricity grid in 3D

Source: press release, 2 August 2019

Roames service combines innovative mapping techniques with cutting-edge data processing and cloud computing capabilities to deliver an accurate and dynamic 3D virtual model of power company assets
Roames service combines innovative mapping techniques with cutting-edge data processing and cloud computing capabilities to deliver an accurate and dynamic 3D virtual model of power company assets (illustration: Fugro)

The most advanced 3D digital modelling of the UK’s electricity grid will be launched by electricity network operator SP Energy Networks as it plans to introduce Fugro’s virtual technology to reduce the risk of power cuts and prepares for the introduction of artificial technology across its network in the future.

It follows an extensive trial by SP Energy Networks since 2014, which led to all UK network operators adopting its current system. The major upgrade will use innovative technology developed by Geo-data specialist Fugro to map the entire network using virtual world visualisation tools.

Fugro has been awarded a three-year contract, beginning in July, to develop a precise model of SP Energy Networks’ complete overhead line network using 3D models and advanced analytics. They will record the network using aerial survey data, which will ultimately be used to identify where vegetation and other external factors may disrupt the network.

Under the new contract, Fugro will capture lidar data and aerial imagery to create an accurate 3D representation of the distribution network, down to the centimetre. The model, which will cover over 41,000 km of SP Energy Networks’ areas, will provide a digital foundation for asset inspections that will reduce the number of on-site surveys and audits and increase efficiency in vegetation and ground clearance management.

Previously, SP Energy Networks carried out all vegetation management surveys by eye and a handheld measuring device, so Fugro’s new technology will increase efficiency in the business and allow SP Energy Networks to use cutting-edge artificial intelligence algorithms to improve customer safety and reduce the chances of unexpected power failure in the future.

Scott Mathieson, Network Planning and Regulation Director at SP Energy Networks, says, “With the ever-increasing electricity demand in the UK, and the security and stability of our infrastructure that that requires, it’s never been more important to be as agile and proactive as possible with our asset management.”

“Our landscapes are constantly changing, and this can often impact on our infrastructure and therefore our customers if we can’t identify potential hazards or issues in good time. Fugro’s solution will not only allow us to shift parts of our asset inspection to become desk-based, but it will also reduce any health and safety risks by ensuring vegetation and structures in close proximity to our overhead lines are identified as an obstruction as soon as possible and before customers are impacted,” Mathieson adds.

Fugro’s Roames’ asset-matching capability is crucial to this project. A precise 3D model of the network will allow SP Energy Networks to update its geographical information system (GIS) with real-world data, creating an accurate digital “twin” to virtually model and explore their overhead network.

Robert Hoddenbach, Fugro’s Global Business Line Director for Land Asset Integrity, says, “Fugro has developed a unique understanding of SP Energy Networks’ requirements from working together on the network innovation trial, so we are delighted to have been awarded this framework. There is much excitement around virtual world technology for asset management and our Roames service provides a truly innovative, immersive solution that will give SP Energy Networks a deep understanding of their network and assets, resulting in key improvements in cost, performance and risk reduction.”

In addition to more efficient asset management and maintenance for electricity network operators, Roames delivers benefits to others beyond the utilities industry. For example, government environmental departments will be able to utilise the data to provide better insights for ecology studies, vegetation management, and national and local flood-modelling programmes.