ESB Networks uses AI to model risk of climate-related power cuts

Ireland electricity company ESB Networks has partnered with Neara, an AI infrastructure modelling platform, with the aim to mitigate the impact of extreme weather events on energy supply.

ESB Networks/Neara

With the frequency and intensity of storms increasing across Ireland in recent years, ESB Networks said this deployment of Neara’s AI and digital modelling technology will transform the way they identify, evaluate, and address risks across their 7,500km transmission network.

ESB is leveraging Neara’s technology to create a digital twin model that maps infrastructure using high-accuracy LiDAR, down to the level of individual poles or towers and the conductors strung between them.

The model can then be used by asset managers, risk managers as well as contractors, planners and engineers to analyse and stress-test key parts of the network in granular detail within a simulated digital environment.

Neara’s digital twin models are built by combining multiple data sources, including LiDAR, geospatial data and imagery, which ESB said provides a higher degree of accuracy compared to deploying staff to inspect different areas of the network in person.

Specifically, Neara’s digital models are said to provide ‘detailed insights’ in two weeks, compared to an average of three to four months for manual reporting. ESB said that this will allow them to remedy identified risks much faster and will avoid forced outages as a result.

ESB said it will use the platform to address one of the central causes of power outages during extreme weather: falling trees and vegetation near power lines.

The Neara technology will enable identification of high-risk areas where these hazards might cause power lines to fail, so that teams can prioritise vegetation management accordingly to prevent line damage and detect the risks arising from longer growing seasons associated with climate change.

ESB said it aims to also use the platform to advance its commitment to a clean energy transition through key infrastructure upgrades. The platform can model the impact of power lines and conductors on surrounding buildings and vegetation and, in the near future, the partnership will aim to optimise the use of existing infrastructure by identifying latent capacity where more renewable energy could be run.

Use of the platform could also help ESB to enhance network design and construction, and automate further management processes to optimise performance and strengthen vital infrastructure in the face of growing climate threat. 

In a statement, senior vice president of Neara, Taco Engelaar, said: “This partnership marks a pivotal moment in climate-proofing our energy supply. Preparing for more violent weather events in advance will be central to keeping communities safe and connected as the climate crisis escalates.

“Proactively managing the hazards that cause distress for families and businesses, like falling trees, is the first step on an exciting road to strengthening our infrastructure. It’s extremely encouraging to see utilities like ESB Networks leading the charge by innovating and exploring new ways of assessing and predicting climate-related risks.

“We’re thrilled to be partnering with them and look forward to driving this innovation forward to speed up the clean energy transition, optimise the performance of power lines across the region, and keep Ireland connected.”