Buried electrical cable

Google and UK Power Networks develop digital map of electricity cables

Image credit: Richardjohnsonuk/Dreamstime

Google Cloud engineers have partnered with UK Power Networks to create digital versions of maps covering more than 180,000km of electricity cables

Google Cloud and UK Power Networks want to transform the global utility industry with the creation of digital maps of electricity cables.

Until now, no artificial intelligence (AI) software has been able to recognise hand-drawn straight lines and recreate them as fully interactive digital files. Google Cloud promises to change that. The company's engineers have partnered with UK Power Networks, which delivers electricity across London, to use new image-recognition software to scan thousands of maps – some of which date back decades – and automatically remaster them into a digital format. 

The team aims to create digital versions of maps covering more than 180,000km of electricity cables.

Currently, utility firms have to manually scan maps of underground equipment in order to obtain electronic versions, which means they have have extensive libraries of outdated maps. The Google-UK Power Networks partnership is said to be able to finish the majority of the digitalisation task three years faster than was thought possible, at a tenth of the cost.

For UK Power Networks, the AI tool is already cutting 20,000 hours of scanning work down to 15 minutes and allowing the organisation to provide better, faster services to the 15,000-plus customers a year who apply for upgraded electricity connections. With the rise of the popularity of renewable energy sites and electric vehicles, this demand is only expected to rise in the coming years.

“We’ve been collaborating with Google throughout the past year to trial this, and we’ve been getting increasingly excited throughout,” said Alex Mahon, head of analytics at UK Power Networks,

“This innovation could save millions of pounds for customers and help enable net zero: that’s the power of digital innovation.”

The company is also making the digital maps freely available to the industry, meaning 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. 

Once the trial is complete, other utilities around the world could use the process to digitise their own networks. 

UK Power Networks says money saved through the project will be re-invested in the electricity network, enabling it to improve safety and reliability, and help enable the UK’s transition to a low-carbon economy. 

This story was updated on May 26, replacing references to Google's DeepMind with Google Cloud at the request of UK Power Networks.

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