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Artificial Intelligence Could Transform Power Industry

The Electric Power Research Institute, as the name implies is focused on the electric industry. A recent article in the EPRI Journal investigates how drones and artificial intelligence could transform the power system.

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Drones and Artificial Intelligence Could Transform Power Industry

From an article by Chris Warren.

Once a subject for science fiction writers, artificial intelligence (AI) has gone mainstream. Today it can be hard to get through a TV commercial break without seeing an ad about how AI is going to transform logistics, healthcare, or even the work of baseball statisticians. Name an industry or a pursuit, and there’s a good chance that someone believes AI is set to revolutionize it.

Given significant interest in the electric power industry, EPRI is already pursuing more than 20 initiatives to explore AI’s potential and limitations. Two projects are investigating how AI can support the use of drones for inspecting transmission and distribution infrastructure. Drones can capture far more images of conductors, insulators, and structures than a person on foot or traveling in a truck—especially across rough, roadless terrain. EPRI is evaluating and enabling AI algorithms that can be trained to recognize malfunctioning equipment and examine thousands of images to pinpoint problems requiring repairs—with limited human intervention.

EPRI collected 7,000 images of transmission and distribution assets and identified which were functioning properly and which were not. With technical support from EPRI staff, nine AI vendors used the data to write algorithms that could distinguish between the two.

“We used a new set of drone images that the vendors’ algorithms had not ‘seen’ before to test how well they could automatically identify defects,” said Andrew Phillips, EPRI vice president of transmission and distribution infrastructure. The algorithms performed better than random guessing but made many mistakes—a promising start given the relatively limited number of images on which the algorithms were based. “The data sets Google or Facebook use for their algorithms are in the millions,” said Phillips. “Ours was in the thousands.”

This work provided important lessons that are guiding future EPRI collaboration with AI companies. “We learned how to ‘curate’ the data,” said Phillips. “This involves assessing the quality of the images and detailing what they mean—for example, this image shows a good insulator or conductor and this image shows a bad one. This enables us to train the algorithms properly. We also learned how important it is to collect a lot of images—the more data, the better.” Now, EPRI is working with power companies to collect and curate many more images so that vendors can train algorithms with larger data sets.

This and other AI projects have prompted EPRI to launch an initiative to improve collaboration between the AI and the electric power industries to meet the power system’s unique needs. EPRI technical staff will identify promising research areas and organize educational workshops for AI companies and researchers. They also will work with utilities to gather, curate, and secure data.

EPRI’s AI initiative broadly aims to support the power industry in providing safe, reliable, affordable, and clean energy. “AI has the potential to improve the affordability of electricity,” said Neva Espinoza, EPRI director of cross-sector technologies and components. “It can improve reliability by identifying high-risk, malfunctioning assets. It also can enhance safety by providing utilities with information needed to replace or repair those assets before they fail.”

For the full article click here.

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