09.08.2023 | Security of supply? We take care of it – today with Cassandra Lehmann

Tools for the ‘grid doctors’

Axpo uses drones for grid inspections, develops search engines similar to Google and harnesses artificial intelligence and machine learning. This calls for a positive error culture and creative minds. One of these belongs to Cassandra Lehmann, a junior software engineer at Axpo.

The drone hums to life, taking off vertically towards the power poles and lines. Equipped with a camera, it checks the installations for damage, corrosion or overgrowing trees. Thanks to these flying helpers, problems can be detected swiftly and efficiently. Unlike a traditional inspection, the power lines don’t need to be shut down and technicians don’t have to climb up the installations. This makes their work easier and safer. And because the electricity flow isn’t interrupted, an aerial inspection helps to ensure a stable electricity supply, which is especially important given the high demands on our grids.

Training algorithm

Axpo’s drones work autonomously and deliver crystal-clear images. These serve as ‘food’ for the machine learning algorithm used by the company. Machine learning differs from conventional software development in that an algorithm creates the code itself by ‘learning’ from data (in this case, images). But the algorithm first needs to be trained with data and examples so it can recognise patterns, make decisions and continuously adapt the code. Despite the impressive capabilities of artificial intelligence, human intervention by skilled software engineers like Cassandra Lehmann is still needed in this process. She and her team have trained the algorithms so well that other grid operators in Switzerland are also using drones in their projects.

Cassandra has a Bachelor’s degree in Electronics from Malaysia and a Master’s degree in Applied Informatics from Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts. She develops applications for Axpo based on the very latest technology. Cassandra sums up her role as follows: ‘We keep the power grid healthy by providing the “grid doctors” – the technicians and engineers – with tools that enable them to maintain, improve and expand the grid safely, efficiently and precisely. This is enormously important as the demands on the grid have increased significantly in recent years and will continue to do so. One reason for this is the urgent expansion of solar or wind power and their integration into the grid. If the power grid doesn’t function flawlessly during this process, we will have a fundamental supply problem.’

A complex process

But Cassandra Lehmann doesn’t just develop drone tools for the grid doctors – she has also helped to create the ‘Insights Web Application’, a search engine for the entire grid crew that allows them to find and visualise relevant information quickly through a central search or on a map. It’s a complex process. Vast amounts of data had to be digitised and centralised, and a wide range of functions had to be tested and developed. But the most crucial requirement for the Insights Web Application was data security. At the same time, just like Google, the application had to be straightforward, quick and intuitive for the employees who would be using it. No sooner said than done. Over three years of work went into developing the app. Today, Axpo has its own pocket-sized search engine that works in the same way as Google but is tailored to the company’s specific needs.

Another example is the ‘Incident management app’. This merges all the information required to run the Axpo electricity grid securely and reliably. On this development project, Axpo supported the software contractor in an advisory capacity rather than acting as the lead.

Mistakes welcomed

Top-tier software engineering requires space. Space to experiment, to make mistakes, to evolve and to learn. ‘At Axpo, we have this space. Trial and error is part of our daily work. This positive error culture is one of the main strengths of internal software development,’ believes Cassandra. It’s no coincidence that Axpo is at the forefront of digitalisation, artificial intelligence and data security in the Swiss energy sector. These are the key to ensuring that our country will also have a secure electricity supply in the future.

Switzerland has become Cassandra’s second home – ‘not least thanks to Appenzeller cheese,’ she says with a wink. ‘But joking aside, it’s very important to me personally that my work contributes to a clean and secure energy supply in our country.’ 

2200 Kilometres

With its networks, Axpo supplies electricity to the entire part of northeastern Switzerland, the Principality of Liechtenstein and parts of the cantons of Schwyz, Zug, Grisons and Valais. The area with three million inhabitants and a prospering economy covers a third of Switzerland. Up to 3200 MW of power is supplied to customers. Axpo's supra-regional distribution network extends over some 2200 km and plays an important role for the security of supply.

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