UK electricity distributor uses radar planes to assess cables

heat-tech radar planes UK pylon
UK electricity distributor UK Power Networks deployed radar planes over three months to help plan its annual tree-cutting programme

In Europe, electricity utility UK Power Networks has completed a survey of the utility’s overhead power lines using radar planes.

UK Power Networks, which owns and operates the electricity networks in the East of England, London and the South East, used the radar planes to assess if trees or other vegetation were in contact with power lines.

The technology works by illuminating targets with a laser and analyses the reflected light, revealing the exact distance of vegetation from overhead lines.

Three fixed-wing aircraft mapped the 34,000 kilometres of overhead lines over a three-month period.

The data from the survey – believed to be the first of its type and the largest undertaken in the UK – has enabled the company to devise a three-year tree cutting programme in areas where tree branches could touch or damage cables in high winds potentially causing power cuts.

Radar planes findings

Findings of the survey are presented in a digital 3D web portal form which allows UK Power Network’s employees to access results from a desktop.

Commenting on the technology, head of service development at UK Power Networks, Nigel Hall said the aerial radar planes have simplified how the distributor gathered data on lines obscured by trees or other vegetation.

Mr Hall said: “The risk-based tree-cutting programme will help reduce tree-related power cuts for customers, with the additional benefit that it could be carried out without any disturbance to local landowners because it was done from the air rather than on foot.

“As a company it will help us get best value from our GBP19 million annual tree cutting budget, and the web portal will mean staff can carry out ‘virtual patrols’ from their desk, saving them time and reducing the potential hazards if they had had to walk the lines themselves.”

UK Power Networks supplies more than a quarter of the UK’s electricity through its networks of substations, underground cables and overhead lines.