New technology to help airport operations during Covid-19
Published: 23 July 2020 - Rachael Morling
Power experts are testing innovative technologies that could be adopted by UK airports, to help electricity engineers work remotely rather than on site.
UK Power Networks Services will investigate the creation of remote offsite access for the control and monitoring of Heathrow Airport’s electricity distribution network that meets the airport’s high level security requirements and allows staff to control the electricity network when access to the airport is restricted.
Funding for the project was awarded by Innovate UK in response to Heathrow Airport’s need for social distancing measures, while ensuring power supplies remain safe and reliable.
‘Mixed reality’ technologies will be assessed including the use of geo-fencing, a cyber perimeter that ensures the network remains highly secure in the virtual world. Biometric scanning such as facial recognition will also be tested to provide further checks of authentication and authorisation, in addition to conventional technologies.
Heathrow currently operates a SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) system which allows engineers to operate and monitor the airport’s electricity supplies. The project will assess opportunities to enhance its capacity to be operated remotely, such as from an office outside the airport environment or even from home. It will also investigate the potential to roll out the technology to other airports across the UK and large infrastructure projects.
As well as enabling staff to control the electricity network remotely, so minimising the risk of COVID-19 transmission in the workplace, additional benefits include the reduction of energy losses and costs, as sections of the network can be monitored and switched off remotely when required, and a reduced carbon footprint as airport staff don’t need to travel to, and around the airport so often.
Steven Muscat, head of engineering at UK Power Networks Services said: “We believe this study will provide both UK Power Networks Services and Heathrow Airport with some insight into what a smarter remote operating system of the electricity networks might look like. Large industrial operators across the UK will also be keen to understand how to maintain the integrity of their electricity network to the highest standard while operating in an environment that is constrained due to COVID-19 distancing measures.”
The project aims to set out a vision not only airports, but for other critical operations such as food processing sites and water treatment plants, to safely maintain a secure and reliable electricity network during social distancing.