Meet Jac, the dog who sniffs out faults in energy grids

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

Jac is able to smell oil and hydrocarbon gas through dirt and asphalt, saving the engineers from digging a series of holes as they try to find the source of the problem.

While cables are typically buried 40-80cm underground, the Springer Spaniel is known to discover a two-metre-deep fault and its sensitive nose can sniff out just a couple of drops of oil. He was trained at a substation in the town of Renfrew near Glasgow under the supervision of Spen.

Overall, Jac had a 100 percent success rate at finding fault on 30 occasions, according to Scott Mathieson, director of planning and regulation at Spen.

When a breakdown is identified, Jac pinpoints its location by pointing with a forepaw.


When a breakdown is identified, Jac pinpoints its location by pointing with a forepaw

When a fault is identified, Jac locates its location by pointing with a forepaw /SPEN

Image credit: Scottish Power

Spen is responsible for 65,000 miles of grid and 30,000 substations, which keep electricity flowing to six million people in 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 electricity grid and reduce energy loss.

“Part of keeping the lights on in a power grid involves investing in innovation and technology,” said Mathieson. “We are used to using laser technology, flying the network with drones, but Jac adds a lot to our arsenal.

“Jac is a Springer Spaniel whose sense of smell is thousands of times stronger than a human’s and can detect exactly where cables have a weak spot. The upside is that we can actually fix the cable before it breaks and improve performance. customer experience.”

To test Jac’s capabilities, engineers created an artificial fault line at a site in Spen. The dog was able not only to find the location under the asphalt on the first try, but also to use his sense of smell to point out another defect that he did not expect to find..


Jac running towards the camera

Jac runs towards the /SPEN camera

Image credit: Scottish Power

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

Jac’s role, for example, will compete with a new Low Voltage (LV) support room, which uses advanced monitoring technology to provide real-time information about supplies in the operating area north and south of the border.

The system should be able to spot potential defects before they even occur, helping engineers find the exact locations where repairs are needed.

It was established as a permanent part of SP Energy Networks operations following a process which identified 30 ‘pre-failures’, saving around £60,000 in equipment damage, stopping power outages and reducing the amount of time customers were without electricity during the repairs.


Jac indicates a network error

Jac indicates a network error

Image credit: Scottish Power

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

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

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

“Our state-of-the-art technology allows us to see in real time how the network works and is being used. We will continue to innovate to keep the lights on for our customers and it has been interesting to see how even man’s best friend can help out.”

The company said these innovations have helped reduce winter-related breakdowns by 25 percent, compared to 20 years ago.

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