SSE partners with Microsoft, Avanade and Naturescot for puffin monitoring pilot - The EE

SSE partners with Microsoft, Avanade and Naturescot for puffin monitoring pilot

Clare Barclay of Microsoft

Energy firm SSE is using artificial intelligence (AI) technology to document one of the UK’s best loved birds. The energy company has launched its “Flying Squad” initiative with Microsoft, tech firm Avanade and NatureScot to monitor puffin numbers around the Scottish coastline. 

The technology has recently been tested during the seabird’s breeding season on the famous Isle of May in the Firth of Forth.

Four cameras in position on the island gathered footage and automatically detected and counted the birds until they recently left the island. 

If successful it is expected the technology will be used for a number of species recognition projects around SSE sites including hydro power stations and wind farms.

SSE is protecting the environment as it delivers a £4m in investment, every single day, in low-carbon energy and electricity infrastructure over the next five years. 

Rachel McEwen, SSE’s chief sustainability officer, says, “As a generator of renewable electricity and one of the electricity network companies in the UK, our assets can have far reaching consequences across a wide range of issues, from reducing the effects of global climate change to supporting local habitats.

“The impacts of our hydro and wind farm operations and our transmission and distribution networks need to be actively managed and what initiatives like the Flying Squad show is that there are also incredible opportunities to be had in protecting and enhancing existing and new habitats as we harness natural resources such as water and wind for renewable energy generation.”

Rachel McEwen

James Scobie from the Flying Squad says, “The implications for the Microsoft/Avanade technology are huge. It’s our ultimate aspiration that this incredible cutting-edge technology could be deployed in a variety of different settings to monitor species of interest in the future.” 

Clare Barclay, chief executive officer at Microsoft UK, comments, “SSE and Microsoft hold the joint ambition to prioritise, enhance and support sustainability in the energy sector. We are proud to be working closely together through our partnership to achieve these goals in the short, medium and long term. 

“The innovative puffin monitoring project on the Isle of May demonstrates the impact technology can have on advancing sustainability and is just one initial example of how we are collaborating with SSE to shape a more sustainable future.”

Simon Turner, CTO, data & AI, at Avanade adds, “As the investment in renewable energy continues, it’s ever more important to ensure that developments, like windfarms, are not having any detrimental environmental effects. With SSE Renewables, we saw an opportunity to use camera and AI technology to more accurately and efficiently, and less invasively monitor the wellbeing and breeding habits of the puffins that are attracted to this particular area on the Isle of May” 

According to Erica Knott, NatureScot marine sustainability manager, “We support long-running studies on the puffins on our Isle of May National Nature Reserve (NNR) so it was an excellent location to work with SSE, Microsoft and Avanade to trial new technologies for continuous tracking of colony activity. 

“There are exciting possibilities for further development, for example to track activity at individual breeding burrows or overcome some of the trickier aspects of seabird monitoring, such as remoteness and weather, at other sites. This would enhance our understanding of seabird populations and their interactions with human activities, helping us to advise on the future management and monitoring of marine developments, in particular to secure renewable energy to address climate change while also safeguarding biodiversity.” 

Simon Turner

Recently, SSE and Microsoft signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU), establishing a sustainability partnership between the companies, to develop and deploy innovation projects aligned to the zero carbon emissions ambition of both companies. 

Initially focussed on SSE’s renewable energy business, the MOU represents SSE and Microsoft’s’ commitment to working together on several future initiatives, with the aspiration that opportunities could be adopted across SSE’s other business areas. 

Together, the companies will collaborate to promote the awareness of business challenges and opportunities around sustainability, technology, and digital innovation. 

Projects SSE is currently delivering in the transition to net zero include what will be the offshore windfarm at Dogger Bank, off the coast of Yorkshire, Scotland’s offshore windfarm at Seagreen off the coast of Angus, and what is set to be one of Europe’s productive onshore windfarms Viking in the Shetland Islands.

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