Start-up challenge: Resilience of electricity grids to natural disasters

Woza Labs to develop software to predict climate change damage to our network assets

Start-up challenge Electrical network Basque Country GSGIH Climate change

Woza Labs' digital solution has won the start-up challenge Resilience of electricity grids to natural disasters. Thanks to their knowledge of geographic information systems and satellite image analysis, they will design a programme that will help the Networks area to plan and quantify climatic risks that can cause damage to our grids, such as trees falling on electricity distribution lines.

Start-up challenge: Resilience of electricity grids to natural disasters

The Basque technology start-up Woza Labs Enlace externo, se abre en ventana nueva. will use its knowledge in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and satellite image analysis to create new software that allows our Networks business to know how global warming and new extreme weather events may affect our network assets. In this way, we aim to predict and quantify potential damage to our grid assets, such as damage caused by falling trees or branches in the vicinity of power distribution lines.

This digital programme, which will also analyse how we should prioritise investments or reforms in the network to mitigate these risks due to climate change, is going to be tested in our distribution network in Bizkaia (Basque Country) with the possibility of later scaling up to other geographies where the group operates.


Iberdrola has over 1.1 million kilometres of electricity transmission and distribution lines spread throughout the United States, Brazil, the UK and Spain. This network comprises over 4,400 high- to medium-voltage substations and more than 1.5 million medium- to low-voltage distribution transformers built and operated to provide a high-quality and reliable service to a total of 31 million electricity supply points.

The electricity system is the backbone of modern society. Basically, it is the sector on which almost all other sectors depend for their routine operation. This is especially true in Europe, which has arguably the most complex power grid in the world, comprising thousands of generating units, hundreds of thousands of substations and more than 5 million kilometres of lines, and which operates across the continent. In addition, the power grid is tasked with maintaining operations 100 % of the time, even in the face of extreme weather conditions, fuel shortages, direct attacks and human error.

Likewise, the necessary decarbonisation of the economy implies the electrification of many sectors that consume other types of energy, as well as the integration of new renewable distributed generation technologies that increasingly require a stable, robust and, at the same time, flexible power grid operation.

For the electrical system to operate efficiently and reliably, it must maintain its four key elements in continuous operation: generation; transmission, distribution and demand. However, the distribution network, due to its extension and new environmental threats due to climate change, increasingly requires investments to improve its resilience to face these threats.

Network failures due to natural hazards

Historical data show that part of the failures in distribution networks in forested environments are due to trees and branches falling on conductors, both inside and outside the line easement area. 

These falls do not have a single cause, but are generally due to a combination of causes (wind, pests, soil erosion, etc.), however, all of them seem to increase with the rise of extraordinary climatic phenomena associated with climate change (strong storms, extreme heat waves, etc.).

The current felling and pruning process associated with power lines is highly digitised and industrialised. However, electricity distribution companies cannot operate outside these areas and this management does not take into account the aforementioned extraordinary adverse weather events associated with climate change, which are becoming more recurrent and more intense, making it more difficult to identify trees at risk of falling.

Therefore, in order to determine the risks and threats of interruptions to the distribution network caused by events associated with extreme weather or environmental conditions and to be able to assess investments that would reduce these risks, we have to take into account the following primary environmental factors: wind, vegetation density, soil structure and its long-term evolution due to climate change.


Description of the challenge

In this context, Iberdrola, through its PERSEO Start-up Programme, is looking for solutions that make it possible to make predictions that plan and quantify climate-related risks. The aim is to minimise damage to network assets caused by falling trees or branches in the vicinity of power distribution lines, initially in the Vizcaya area.

The aim is to quantify the increased risk of damage to the electricity distribution network caused by falling trees and/or branches, with information that will help to answer the following questions:


What are the impacts and cost-benefit trade-offs of different investments in the distribution network?

What type of investment in the distribution network will reduce risk the most?

How can we improve the resilience of the power grid to the threats of climate change? 

The solutions must meet the following requirements

  • Prediction of falling trees and/or branches, reproducing the probability of occurrence, the stability of the tree and the conditions under which the fall will occur (e.g. wind speed). 
  • Ability to visualise the impact and significance of environmental conditions, by diagnosing and predicting climatic conditions and their evolution, at least with a minimum resolution of 30 metres.
  • Economic impact assessment based on the consequences of not taking preventive action
  • Assessment of necessary investments and avoided costs, and description of proposed corrective measures
  • Comparison and assessment of the different possible scenarios (e.g. current, future climate-dependent, future after implementing the improvement investments).

Amongst other things, a positive valuation will be given for the fact that the solution: 

  • Allows predictions to be differentiated according to soil and vegetation type
  • Enables information to be conveyed in a compatible, intuitive format
  • Uses official and free sources of information
  • Does not need to generate climate models
  • Proposes automatic learning methods to associate environmental conditions with the recorded occurrence of tree damage events in the grid.

The following will also be judged:

  • The maturity, reliability and scalability of the solution
  • Ease of installation and maintenance
  • The possibility of integration in existing surveillance systems
  • Total cost (both initial and recurring)
  • Additional uses that can be made of the technology used (help with pruning management, monitoring of safety distances, line parameter measurements, impact on birdlife, etc.).

The challenge is launched within the framework of BiOK!, the meeting place offered by BEAZEnlace externo, se abre en ventana nueva. (an entity of the Department of Economic Promotion of the Provincial Council of Bizkaia) for the generation of new business opportunities, in collaboration with Iberdrola's new centre for innovation in smart grids, the Global Smart Grids Innovation Hub.

Iberdrola will make the Hub a worldwide smart grid benchmark through open collaboration and co-working between i-DE technicians, suppliers, start-ups and different organisations from all around the world. The team of business experts at Iberdrola Networks will be responsible for selecting one or more innovative solutions for early detection of fires close to electrical lines.