‘Thor’s hammer’ to be used for testing electricity poles

SP Energy Networks has invested £386,000 to carry out the trials of the new Thor Hammer, which has been developed by New Zealand-based global engineering firm Groundline.

The technology will help linesmen assess timber poles simply by striking them with the hammer. It will be used as part of ongoing work to prepare the electricity network for stormy weather. The device will be used test the strength of overline poles and how secure they are, as well as to estimate their remaining life.

Greg Shirley, innovation engineer at SP Energy Networks, said: “We have a few Marvel fans in the team so it was fun seeing the Thor hammer project come to life. Our engineers are real life superheroes working through extreme weather to protect the network – so it’s a fitting name for a really innovative piece of technology.”

The technology is being trialled across SP Energy Networks’ two distribution licence areas in parts of Lanarkshire, Edinburgh, the Scottish Borders and Wales. If successful, the Thor Hammer device could generate annual savings of £600,000 for SP Energy Networks’, which currently spends about £15m every year on replacing overhead line poles.

Vibrations are sent through the timber poles, allowing SP Energy Networks’ engineers to gather data. SP Energy Networks said that it offers a huge improvement on current methods, facilitating a more accurate measurement of remaining pole strength and ensuring that pole life is maximised.

The hammer can be used to detect the presence of any internal decay – including below ground level without excavation – and can provide GPS-tagged measurement results as well as predicting the end of life to accelerate the planning of refurbishment and investment. Accurate assessments of the pole’s condition make pole climbing much safer.

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Shirley added: “Having a robust network of resilient overhead powerlines allows us to keep the power flowing and the lights on whatever the weather.  We know from experience that the worst winter storms can result in some power loss – particularly when major lines are hit by trees and other debris brought down by high winds. By identifying potential risks in advance, we can take action now to reduce the impact when the weather takes a turn for the worse.

“Thor Hammer will provide valuable data – allowing us to power our customers’ homes every day and protect our network.”

Previously, SP Energy Networks carried out all pole maintenance using its team on the ground and excavation work often took weeks to complete. Although the network provider will always require people on the ground, it said that the Thor Hammer device provides extremely accurate data collection capability on the spot.

Ian Flatley, director at Groundline Engineering, said: “Thor Hammer is an important tool to inform and provide valuable insights to timber pole network providers. This current project, which includes learnings and development on United Kingdom poles, is set to be transformational for distribution network operators like SP Energy Networks.”

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