Industrial proximity and temperature sensors

Power Companies Reduce Outages and Lower Costs with Remote Temperature Monitoring

Margie Agin Blog, Industry 4.0

The service team had just ok’d a circuit switcher for one of Northern Europe’s largest power companies. The legacy equipment had been signed off to run for another year before the next service was due.

Not long after the check, however, the power company’s new remote monitoring system revealed temperature on the circuit breaker was rising. As a result, the company was at risk for an outage or even a fire. Additionally, energy use was escalating, and so were costs.

Temperature sensor graph

Temperature sensor data triggered an alert to the company’s operations team. They immediately focused on the part of the equipment reporting the temperature spike and they identified the root cause. The power company was able to demonstrate to the manufacturer that the equipment was malfunctioning, despite the service check, and it was fixed without any additional cost. Most importantly, the company avoided the risk of a power outage or fire due to overheating.

Today, this type of data-backed maintenance strategy is used only by about 5% of power companies, according to research from McKinsey & Company. These first movers are poised to realize massive cost savings and operational improvements, changing the financial picture in an industry accustomed to annual gains of only 1-2%.

By employing preventive strategies like remote temperature sensing, “operators reduce their costs by 10% in medium-voltage distribution grids, 15% in high- and medium-voltage overhead lines and underground cables, and 20% in high and medium-voltage substations, while improving asset reliability,” McKinsey reports.

This post will demonstrate how power companies of all sizes can create an innovative temperature monitoring solution while meeting the specific requirements and challenges of the power industry.

The power industry is struggling to keep aging assets online

Even though most power companies don’t operate in a market with multiple competitors, they are under pressure to demonstrate operational savings, particularly in environments where tariffs are adjusted at the end of regulatory period to account for industry cost performance. The more efficient a power company can become, the more it will benefit.

However, power cycles are increasing at the same time the number of trained operators available for specialized maintenance and repairs are decreasing.

The last thing a power company wants is a forced outage caused by malfunctioning equipment. An outage translates to higher cost of repairs and replacements, in addition to unhappy customers and lost revenue. Research indicates power companies have the potential to lose an average of $1.26 M in potential revenue over a 7-day period if a 500MW generator was down due to a forced outage.

Overheating causes critical asset failure

Critical assets in the power industry are diverse. They include generators, generator circuit breakers (GCBs), line disconnect switches, step-up and step-down transformers, segregated and non-segregated bus ducts, potential transformer cabinets, medium voltage switchgears, and motors, among others. These systems are subject to excessive loads, normal wear and tear, and challenging environmental conditions which can cause thermal or electrical breakdown.

If left unmonitored, power systems overheat, stop functioning and may even cause fires.

The status quo is costly, inadequate and potentially dangerous

Power companies typically rely on employees to perform manual equipment checks. At best, manual tests are performed only periodically. At worst, utilities need to shut down systems to perform those tests.

Inspectors can see obvious problems such as physical damage, frayed connectors, degraded insulation, moisture, and evidence of overheated components. But they often don’t have full line-of-sight and may make mistakes and omissions.

At times, power companies take thermal images of equipment to understand temperature conditions. However, trained technicians and specialized equipment are required, which makes the checks expensive and time consuming.

With thousands of assets to monitor and maintain, operators prioritize high voltage environments. But, as voltage lowers and gets closer to end consumers, they typically lose oversight of operational conditions. That means that if there is an outage in a low voltage environment, they may spend hours tracking down the cause of outage, at high cost.

We believe there is a better way.

Small but mighty, wireless temperature sensors protect the power grid

Using advanced wireless sensors, power companies can monitor critical assets at scale, from power generation to transmission and distribution.

Lightweight mini-sensors stick on assets in difficult-to-reach places with small surface areas, proving direct connections to critical measurement points. They don’t require line-of-sight or manual intervention to gather measurements. Easy to install, they require no maintenance or yearly calibration.

Data for decision making

Once temperature sensor data is acquired and aggregated, it can be brought into a digital space for full visibility. Analytics systems turn data points into insights that help operators make informed decisions.

When sensors detect a temperature change on a critical asset, operators may receive an automated alert and confirm an unexpected spike in their dashboard. They can then react quickly to rebalance or replace an overheating asset before any damage is done.

Instead of employees descending under the ground to perform tasks or shut down systems, proactive power companies use data like this to identify issues before they cause problems. As a result, systems remain online and running smoothly.

Unprecedented ability to test and learn

With simple, scalable sensors, companies developing and implementing temperature monitoring solutions have the freedom to experiment with new applications without a massive up-front investment. Small and lightweight, wireless mini-sensors allow you to place sensors in high density and easily move them to check conditions and compare data in multiple locations so you can continually adapt a monitoring and analytics solution. You can start using temperature data as part of daily operations and gain a return on their investment more rapidly.

Temperature sensors can provide back-up data to confirm suspicious you already have. More exciting is the potential for temperature sensors to tell you things you never would have known.

We’re here to help you create a solution that saves you time and money. See how wireless mini-sensors can change the way you manage critical assets. Contact us for a demonstration and pilot kit.