Utilities Need SLEx Education

Earlier this month, I kicked off the “On the Grid” tour, traveling to Calgary to deliver presentations at two back-to-back conferences: Cigre Canada and TechCon Canada. I also gave two webinars last week and will take the message to San Francisco at the DataWeek conference on October 2nd and to Europe on November 11 at the O’Reilly Strata Conference in London.

Asking the non-rhetorical and very important question: How can the grid be smart if the infrastructure is stupid?, the topic of my talks was Big Data for Big Substations and the big challenges this brings for utility companies worldwide.

When people talk about the “smart grid,” they’re generally referring to smart meters. Deployed at the end-point where electricity is used, these devices give utilities valuable feedback on customers’ consumption and usage patterns but do little to ensure the reliability of the energy supply chain.

For a really smart grid, we also need to smarten things up at the generation, transmission, and distribution levels. And sensors are a big part of the answer.

Our current power infrastructure is already struggling to keep up with ever-growing worldwide demand for electricity. Many substations in North America and Europe are over 50 years old and running above nameplate ratings. And the utility workforce, with decades of expertise and knowledge, is aging and retiring too.

Wholesale replacement of the energy infrastructure is economically impossible; it will take decades to complete an ongoing top-to-bottom upgrade.

slex2In the meantime, faced with the threat of more frequent power outages, utilities must focus on optimizing their existing generation and T&D systems – keeping them longer and driving them harder. What they need is SLEx – Substation Life Extension. This revolutionary approach breathes new life into the aging electrical infrastructure by combining sensing technology with a new mindset that targets the length of time you would like substations to continue in service.

Sophisticated sensors – including online dissolved gas analysis (DGA), bushing monitoring, winding hot spot monitoring,  load tap changer (LTC) monitoring and SF6 circuit breaker monitoring – enable SLEx by gathering critical information related to the health of power assets. Sensors give operators the 24/7 insights they need to make better decisions and automate swift, intelligent responses to real-time conditions.

pic_transformer_sensorsThat’s great stuff, but the quantity of “Big Data” sophisticated sensors deliver creates a whole new set of big challenges. The definition of Big Data varies dependent on each organizations capabilities to handle and process the data that flows in. Big Data for one organization may be a “walk in the park” for another organization, and it is dependent on Volume, Variety, Veracity and Velocity.

pic_3GB Sensors deployed to monitor substation transformers, including the most data-intensive online thermal imaging and perimeter monitoring cameras, can generate up to 5 Gigabits per second (Gb/sec) of data. Utilities must not only figure out how to analyze all that data, but how to move it around safely and securely.

Some data transmission strategies involve continuous streaming of sensor data to servers located at a centralized control station where analytics are performed. Data then must be communicated back to the substation for action. Other strategies involve cloud-based computing, with remote data storage and analytics at an indeterminate location. Relying on the “cloud” also presents security risks and bandwidth issues.

In general, the farther away from the actual sensor head data is processed, the higher the risk of something going wrong.

New Sensing Philosophy — Intelligent Sensing at the Edge

The latest trend in sensing is to enable the maximum amount of analytics at the sensor head itself, referred to as “intelligent sensing at the edge.”  In this scenario, intelligent sensors perform analytics, store data, provide feedback and automate action to all assets locally at the substation itself.

Data is processed and alerts reported “by exception” only if conditions meet pre-determined criteria that require preventive or corrective action. This sensing strategy avoids unnecessary bandwidth congestion, reducing the overall tax on the bit pipe by up to 80%, and also protects operators from information overload.

If you are interested in further exploring Intelligent Sensing at the Edge and how sensor technology can enable SLEx and optimize asset performance, I invite you to listen to my recently recorded webinar at http://info.lumasenseinc.com/view-webinars or to contact me directly.

If you’re going to be in the San Francisco area on October 2, I’ll be talking about the Smart Grid, SLEx, Intelligent Sensing at the Edge  and Big Data analytics at DataWeek. Maybe I’ll see you there …

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