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Durham University

Research & business

Outstanding partnership helps reduce power outages

(17 July 2018)

Durham University and NM Group Knowledge Transfer Partnership: Vegetation Analytics

Power outages caused by trees falling on power lines are being reduced as a result of a research partnership involving a Durham University Research Fellow and an international company.

Sophie Davison, originally from Gateshead, worked with NM Group’s Knaresborough office to develop a system to model vegetation around power lines using aerial laser scanning from fixed wing planes and helicopters, to help utility companies minimise the risk of power outages caused by vegetation.

The company entered a two year Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with Durham University, which enabled Sophie, a Geography graduate specialising in remote sensing, to work as a knowledge transfer specialist alongside Shane Brunker, Technical Director at NM Group and Danny Donoghue, Professor in Remote Sensing at Durham University.

The KTP has since been graded as ‘outstanding’ by Innovate UK, the UK government’s innovation agency, for its achievements. 

Next generation vegetation analysis

The partnership recognised that effective vegetation management is vital to reduce avoidable power outages caused by contact between overhead power lines and vegetation. It also plays an important role in helping reduce the risk forest fires in countries such as Australia and parts of the USA. 

Durham University and NM Group worked to develop the use of LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) remote sensing technology, traditionally used to model power lines to also analyse the surrounding vegetation. 

In addition to modelling vegetation, LIDAR data was used identify and analyse further factors which can influence tree fall, such as terrain characteristics and wind exposure, to help identify what might contribute to tree fall.

The project team worked to combine these data with information about known areas of vulnerability to help produce smarter risk maps for power networks thereby helping utility companies carry out targeted, risk-based vegetation management.

Benefits for business and customers

The KTP between Durham University and NM Group has led to direct benefits for utilities companies and their customers. Andy McGlashan, Product Development Manager at NM Group, explains: “The KTP project has enabled us to bring benefits to existing clients and attract new business.

“We have been able to develop our work with electricity utilities worldwide to use the newly expanded LIDAR techniques developed through the KTP to develop risk maps for their electricity network. This in turn helps our clients to take an evidence-based approach to their vegetation management work and reduce the risk of power outages.

“We are now completing a pilot project in Australia using the vegetation analytics skills developed through the KTP.”

New skills and opportunities

For former Durham University MSc student Sophie Davison, the KTP provided an excellent opportunity for industry-relevant application of her work and further development of her skills. Innovate UK states that around 75 per cent of KTP Associates are offered a full time permanent job by the business on completion of their project; in this instance Sophie was offered and has accepted the role of Vegetation Product Manager at NM Group.

Sophie said: “The project gave me the opportunity to work with a range of industry partners.

“I have had the opportunity to present international conferences and see the research I have undertaken transform into valuable commercial products. I also had the opportunity to undertake specialist project management training offered by Innovate UK and was able to help the company develop new business opportunities, all of which has given me valuable business experience. 

“Vegetation analysis now makes up around 50% of NM Group’s business mix compared with less than 10% when the KTP began. The experience and skills I gained through the KTP and the business opportunities created from the project undoubtedly helped me to land a permanent role at the company on project completion.”

Raising business profile

Entering into a KTP with the Durham University has brought direct benefits to NM Group. Andy McGlashan explains: “The KTP has enhanced and supported a meaningful shift in the business mix by developing tools and techniques that have enabled us to capitalize securing new contracts.

“Having the KTP has also enabled us to demonstrate the academic rigour behind our product development.

“As a result of the KTP, and the new products it has enabled us to develop, we can now offer our clients large amounts of data in informative formats, such as the vegetation risk maps.”

Academia and business in partnership

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, which are funded by the UK government, offer an important route for academic institutions and businesses to work together and share expertise. Professor Danny Donoghue, Department of Geography, explained: “This project, along with many other KTPs, demonstrates Durham University’s commitment to UK industry by sharing its world class research for the benefit of wider society.

“Working closely with NM Group provided the University with access to the latest laser scanning technologies and data which directly benefits our students through the teaching programme.”

Find out more:

  • More information about how Durham University works with industry partners is available here.
  • If you would like to join our Geography Department, we’ll be recruiting academic staff later this year in our Annual Recruitment Campaign. Please register your interest and we will contact you when vacancies are advertised.


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