At the center of electric utilities’ mission comes a very straightforward mandate: manage risk to minimize, observe, and reduce the effect of negative events and take advantage of opportunities. Minimizing threats to power network reliability and preventing expensive production shutdowns caused by outages are at the core of utilities’ and other power distribution networks’ risk management plans. Doing so requires electrical network operators to pinpoint the most likely sources of equipment failure in order to manage and minimize risks to substation equipment. This can be accomplished by using improved design engineering and technology modernization, calculated and strategic maintenance plans, and appropriate levels of service.
Deploying sensors gives utilities visibility throughout their substations and allows them to detect problems and communicate information. The sensors identify the real-time state and condition of electrical distribution equipment for effective grid management and increased operational efficiency and reliability. Sensors are highly concentrated in the areas where there is a higher likelihood of problems occurring, such as within substations. These sensors measure and transmit data that, with the help of analytics, can be translated into actionable insights. The frequency of data acquisition and accuracy must be connected to the speed of the phenomenon’s change, and this varies depending on what is being measured. For example, humidity sensors sample every five minutes while protection relays sample 10 to 1000 times faster than the phenomena they measure.
The response to distribution network events depends primarily on two factors: the type of event and the severity of the consequences. For example, sensors, decision processes, and actuators may be bundled together for a fast reaction and reduced communication errors in a high-criticality, high impact, and unanticipated phenomenon, like arc flash protection. In contrast, with a slower phenomenon with little immediate impact, such as an unexpected rise in energy use, utilities have more time to remotely analyze the situation using smart technology before responding.
The electrical equipment in smart substations and distribution management systems often has built-in mechanisms to heal and repair operations in case of one of these events. However, although some electrical distribution equipment may have the ability to self-heal, distribution network operators must still design a strategic maintenance plan to ensure optimal operations.
And in some cases, maintenance alone isn’t a viable option and operators must upgrade, modernize, or replace equipment. This gives them the opportunity to improve equipment connectivity and introduce new sensing technologies. Equipment assessment allows operators to identify weaknesses, inefficiencies, areas for cost savings, and ways in which equipment enhancements and modernization can make a positive impact on the entire network.
A degree of substation engineering inspiration can be taken from the way our own human biological systems work. Learn how utilities can lower substation shut-down risk in our new white paper: How to Build Smarter Electrical Substations by Mimicking Biology.