Saving trees and preventing power cuts – how data analysts hold the key

Trees in Kent

Clever use of data about trees across the East and South East of England, is helping to reduce power cuts for residents.

In the past year, UK Power Networks has invested £19million in tree trimming to keep branches away from power lines and help prevent outages for communities.

To ensure this was being spent efficiently, on a more scientific and sustainable basis, the company’s analytics team designed a new computerised tool for tree-cutting colleagues to best decide when, where and how to clear trees and bushes away from power lines.

This use of software calculates a risk ranking for each tree, in terms of the priority it should be given for trimming for maximum benefit, which also helps ensure no trees are cut unnecessarily. It takes into account different varieties’ growth rates, tree ages and locations.

The innovative project builds on existing use of mapping technology such as LlDAR plane patrols which UK Power Networks was the first UK network operator to adopt.

The data analysis has already resulted in fewer power cuts for customers, with the combined benefit of saving 350 trees from felling (equal to 75 tonnes of CO2) for communities as the UK faces climate change and strives towards Net Zero.

It has also helped the company reduce the number of power lines damaged by trees and branches, particularly during storms, and protected an estimated 9,000 customers from potential power cuts.

UK Power Networks plans to spend £90million on tree cutting from 2023 to 2028.

Alex Mahon, who heads the company’s analytics team, comments: “Our focus is always to collaborate across the business to deliver both change and lasting value.

“This tool adds to the resilience of our electricity networks, reduces power cuts, and also ensures that the environmental impact of tree trimming is also lessened by directing work to where it is most needed.”

Martin Peters, an area tree manager for UK Power Networks, says: “We have a long-established programme of tree cutting which is carefully managed to make sure we prioritise trimming trees which present the greatest safety risk, or those most likely to touch overhead lines.

“The analytics team understood our objectives and the successful use of their tool has added to our existing technology such as the use of LIDAR. It helps us make the best decisions about when and where to trim trees across the communities we serve.”

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