Energy

Powering the Energy Sector With IoT Data | Part 2: Transmission & Distribution

Apr 28, 2021

In the previous part of this series, we discussed the first phase involved with energy supply and how data resulting from production assets can facilitate energy companies as they move away from demand driven models and begin incorporating more renewable sources of energy.

The second part in our series will focus on the ways data from IoT can aid in transforming the energy transmission and distribution (T&D) process.

Transforming Energy Transmission and Distribution

After electricity has been generated, a system of electrical wires carries the electricity from the source of generation (i.e power plants) to a home or a business.

Transmission and distribution are two separate stages or systems on the grid. Transmission lines carry electricity long distances around the country at high voltages. Distribution lines run at lower voltages and take electricity from the transmission to the end consumer.

Along with substations and power stations, these lines make up what is often referred to as “The Grid”.

Maintaining the T&D Network

Maintenance is a fundamental part of the grids functioning, a need that is accentuated by the outdoors location of many of the elements, on top of aging assets.

Power transformers

Power transformers play an integral role in the operation of the electric power grid and the transformation of energy ready for transmission or distribution. They transfer electrical energy from one electrical circuit to another, or multiple circuits, without changing voltage. Global transformer infrastructure is aging. They are generally designed with an approximate lifespan of 30–40 years, however, they are often operating well beyond their rated life. Expectations for failures increase proportionally with age and are predicted to peak towards the end of the decade. Transformer aging is also accelerated due to lack of proper maintenance and untimely detection of faults.

Unexpected failures cause major disturbances to operating systems, resulting in unscheduled outages and power delivery problems. In addition, many countries have laws in place that control and regulate power supply, and failure to deliver on set targets can result in steep penalties exceeding the price of the energy itself.

The enormous potential costs of power transformer failures on not only the energy companies bottom line but also their reputation, should provide ample incentive for ensuring a more sophisticated approach to maintenance. Armed with the right data regarding asset status, operators can aim to reduce the number of unexpected transformer failures.

Transmission lines

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Transmission lines are also part of the “transmission and distribution” stage and play a very important role in transmitting the huge quantum of electrical power generated at various generating stations across the country, often over distances of several hundreds of kilometers.

Transmission lines face often harsh weather conditions and are located in remote and hard to reach areas. While periodic visits are performed, it becomes a challenge for manual labour to visit frequently. For uninterrupted power supply, it is essential to ensure the transmission lines are kept in good condition — this requires a more methodical approach to maintenance.

With access to data from connected sensors, companies can monitor the parameters of their assets, which may offer an indication of a fault or potential future issues, before they become critical. While elements like the weather can not necessarily be controlled, combining weather data with asset data such as location can help increase the productivity of repair teams and reduce downtime and other related losses.

Managing and monitoring the Grid

Unlike a traditional grid, “smart grids” detect and react to changes in usage. It is a self-sufficient distributed system that can provide energy from different power sources, including renewables and storage.

Grid Balancing

Grid balancing is a term used to describe the task utility companies have of supplying the correct amount of electricity to the grid.

The integration of sensors at substations and along the distribution lines, allows companies to gather power consumption data and better manage the grid. The combination of this data paired with historical usage and Machine Learning can help forecast demand and empower impactful decision making around voltage control, load switching and network configuration.

Mitigating Operational losses and Improving Safety

While it is clear that maintaining an overview of assets in the network is vital as it can help plan for maintenance and prevent issues, nonetheless, issues are not entirely unavoidable.

With thousands of kilometers of cables to monitor, smart sensors offer a significant advantage by enabling faults and causes of outages to be identified quickly, reducing losses.

Sensors located on assets within the grid can also help detect leaks which may cause harm to the environment or result in a fire or explosion.

Conclusion

As economic needs increase, the stress put onto assets within the transmission and distribution network is increasing. Coupled with already aging assets, remote locations and a depleting pool of experienced technicians, the problem of ensuring constant energy availability is becoming increasingly difficult.

By digitalising the network and correctly utilizing the vast amounts of data, energy companies can gain better visibility into performance of vital assets and help to maintain consistent delivery of energy.

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