Are dogs and robots the future of energy security?

A Springer Spaniel named Jack of the Scottish Utility Services SP Energy Networks helps maintain its network by sniffing out flaws on the deeply buried network before they appear, saving engineers time and effort.

according to The media reportsJack can smell the oil and hydrocarbon gases that spurt from the faulty oil-filled cables across the ground and tarmac, and when he does, he indicates that he has detected a defect by raising his front paw. So far, he’s found flaws on 30 occasions, which makes his success rate a neat 100 percent.

“Part of keeping the lights on in the power grid involves investing in innovation and technology,” Scott Matheson, SPEN’s planning and regulatory executive, Tell Sky News.

“We’re used to laser technology, flying the network with drones, but Jac adds to our armory in a big way. He’s a blood dog, and we’re experimenting with Jac to help us troubleshoot cables in particular,” Matheson said. With the help of the dog, SPEN engineers can fix a faulty cable before it fails.

Using a sniffer dog to help detect faults in 65,000 miles of power lines and 30,000 substations is certainly a new idea that, given Jack’s success rate, may need to be scaled up. Dog sniffing could possibly be useful in detecting leaks on oil and gas pipelines as well.

Meanwhile, the oil industry is betting on robots. Just this month, a Thai and Norwegian company showed off a robot that can Repair Subsea pipelines. According to the two companies, the Nautilus can perform missions at depths of up to 150 metres, deeper than a diver can safely go, and can save up to 40 percent on repair costs.

The robot works by laying a pipeline and moving along it until it detects a leak, then proceeds to roll it up and seal it.

Robots too used In the industry for the insider inspection of pipelines. They use lasers and technology similar to ultrasound to check pipelines for signs of corrosion.

The technology is, of course, used to great effect by network operators everywhere to make sure that nothing goes wrong. However, Jack’s hiring suggests that technology is not always the best solution to network maintenance problems, especially when supply is in short supply and the threat of outages looms over the UK.

“Our teams prepare for winter weather all year round, and we’re working hard to be ‘storm ready’ for the months ahead,” said Matteson of Spin. “It is important that we explore all avenues to either prevent unplanned outages that weather can bring or to ensure that if they do occur, we can get power back into people’s homes and businesses as quickly and safely as possible.”

In fact, earlier this week the National Grid, the UK’s largest power utility, issued its first power outage warning It expected energy consumption to rise amid cooler weather. Later, the utilities withdrew the alert, saying their contingency plans were in place to deal with a possible outage.

The national grid said the notices were intended to be a signal that the risk of system stress in Britain’s electricity grid was greater than it would be under normal circumstances.

The UK relies on gas and renewables, as well as some nuclear power, to generate electricity, and is also a big importer of France, which until recently was an abundant nuclear power supply. Now, however, the EDF is struggling to repair many of its reactors and producing nuclear power far below normal, reducing its ability to supply electricity to France’s neighbor when needed.

This highlights Jack’s unique role thus far: in a time of uncertainty about supply, the proper operation of the network and all its parts becomes more important than ever.

By Charles Kennedy for

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