SP Networks has been trialling the use of a specially trained detection dog to help find some of the network issues that could lead to power cuts.

Introducing Jac, the dog that sniffs out faults in energy networks

Image credit: Scottish Power

SP Energy Networks (Spen) has been trialling the use of a specially trained detection dog, which is able to help identify faults on the power network deep underground.

Jac is able to smell oil and hydrocarbon gases through earth and tarmac, saving engineers from digging a number of holes as they try to find the source of the problem.

While cables are typically buried at 40-80cm below ground, the springer spaniel has been known to discover a fault two metres deep and his sensitive nose can sniff out as little as a couple of drops of oil. He has been trained at a substation in the town of Renfrew near Glasgow, under Spen's supervision. 

Overall, Jac has had a 100 per cent success rate in finding faults on 30 occasions, according to Scott Mathieson, planning and regulation director at Spen.

When a fault is identified, Jac pinpoints its location by pointing with a front paw

When a fault is identified, Jac pinpoints its location by pointing with a front paw

When a fault is identified, Jac pinpoints its location by pointing with a front paw /SPEN

Image credit: Scottish Power

Spen is responsible for 65,000 miles of network and 30,000 substations, which keep electricity flowing to six million people across 3.5 million homes. 

In preparation for a cold winter and an energy crisis that could leave six million UK homes facing potential power cuts, the company is investing in innovative solutions to protect the power grid and reduce energy loss. 

"Part of keeping the lights on in an electricity network involves investing in innovation and technology," Mathieson said. "We're used to using laser technology, flying the network with drones, but Jac adds to our armoury significantly.

"Jac is a springer spaniel whose sense of smell is thousands of times more effective than a human being and he can detect exactly where the cables have a weakness in them. The benefit of that is that we can repair the cable actually before it fails and improve customer experiences."

To test Jac's abilities, the engineers created an artificial fault in a Spen site. The dog was able to not only find the location under the asphalt on the first attempt, but also use his sense of smell to point to another fault he hadn’t been expected to find.

Jac running towards the camera

Jac running towards the camera /SPEN

Image credit: Scottish Power

In addition to recruiting Jac's services, Spen is also investing in other technologies to reduce the risks of power cuts over the winter and to address the damage caused when Storm Arwen brought winds of over 110mph.  

Jac's role, for instance, will be in competition with a new LV (Low Voltage) Support Room, which is using advanced monitoring technology to provide real-time information on supplies across its operating area north and south of the border.

The system is expected to be able to spot potential flaws before they even happen, by helping engineers find exact locations where repairs are required. 

It was established as a permanent part of SP Energy Networks’ operations following a trial that identified 30 ‘pre-faults’, saving an estimated £60,000 in equipment damage, stopping power cuts and reducing the amount of time customers were without electricity during repairs.

Jac pointing to a network fault

Jac pointing to a network fault

Image credit: Scottish Power

While the new system is tested, Spen has also used drones to identify areas of maintenance and helicopters equipped with lidar laser technology that scans whether trees have grown too close to power lines, the company has been carrying out inspections and maintenance at key locations.

“Our teams prepare for winter weather all year round and we’re working hard to be ‘storm ready’ for the months ahead," Mathieson said.  

“It’s important we explore every avenue to either prevent the unplanned outages weather can bring or to make sure that, if they do occur, we can restore power to people’s homes and businesses as quickly and as safely as possible.

“Our cutting-edge technology means we can see in real-time how the network is both operating and being used. We’ll continue to innovate to keep the lights on for our customers – and it’s been interesting to see how man’s best friend can help out, too."

The company has said that these innovations have helped reduce faults caused by winter weather by 25 per cent, compared to 20 years ago.

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