By Chloe Aiello
IBM in partnership with its subsidiary, The Weather Company, is using artificial intelligence and predictive technology to mitigate power outages during extreme weather conditions. But Weather Company CEO Cameron Clayton says the technology could have major implications for utility companies that are struggling to keep up with increasingly unpredictable weather.
IBM’s ($IBM) system feeds weather data and satellite imagery into IBM's artificial intelligence-powered supercomputer Watson, which uses models to make recommendations that help companies maintain their massive networks of power lines. The technology enables utility companies to predict when and where a malfunction will occur, so they can send crews to address problems before they happen ー and ideally avoid destructive or costly consequences.
"We've been working with IBM research on this amazing geospatial satellite imagery solution they've developed that essentially gives a bird's eye view over the entire power system, and lets us use AI to predict exactly which trees and which limbs are most likely to fall on power lines and create outages," Clayton said.
Clayton says he's received feedback from customers that the power line use case has proven exceptionally efficient, but the technology also has applications for power grid management, wildfire prevention, and storm monitoring. Technology like this is likely to prove increasingly important as the frequency and intensity of climate-related weather events pick up in the future. Climate and weather-related disasters cost the U.S. $91.0 billion in 2018 and $312.7 billion in 2017, according to climate.gov.
The 2018 California Camp Fire, the sixth deadliest U.S. fire on record, is believed to have first sparked when a Pacific Gas and Electric Company ($PCG) power line came in contact with tree branches. The fire killed 86, destroyed 14,000 homes, and about 500 businesses. When PG&E filed for bankruptcy in January, it said it could face as much as $30 billion in liability from wildfires in 2017 and 2018.
"The utility companies know what the impact is from these events, but these are huge networks at a scale we take for granted, and so we really think we can partner with them to do a much better job in the future," Clayton said.
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