Automating Assets: an Interview with Mika Loukkalahti of Helen Oy - [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Interview]

Posted to Energy Central in the Grid Professionals Group
image credit: Mika Loukkalahti
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Leading Expert, Asset Management Helen Eletricity Network Ltd (Helsinki, Finland)

Top 2% industry SSI rank. Present responsibility area is to take care of Helen's network planning principles and technology development, latter especially in secondary system area. Knowledge...

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  • Jun 17, 2020

In the utility industry, protecting assets on the grid is a top priority. Not only does an immense amount of capital go into those assets, but they are also essential to keeping power on the grid safe, reliable, and affordable. As the utility sector continues to move in a more and more digital direction, much of that asset protection is able to take place on an automated basis, opening up a whole new world of possibilities. These important topics are going to be included in the much anticipated Grid Asset Management 2020 conference, set to take place at the end of September in Brussels, Belgium.

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Among the presentations covering the automation of grid assets will be one from Mike Loukkalahti, the Leading Asset Management professional at Helen Oy. Specifically, Mika will be sharing his talk entitled “Automating Assets – establishing the optimal pathway for the automation of assets to improve reliability and reduce maintenance costs.” This presentation is not one that you’ll want to miss if you’re working in grid asset management, so if you’re on the fence about attending this conference and listening in to Mika yourself, read this great Q&A interview he was generous enough to share with the Energy Central Grid Professionals Community as a part of our Power Perspective™ Interview Series and then decide:

On his background:

“My education is Master of Science on Electrical Engineering.  I started at Helen in 1997. My first responsibilities were on protection, automation and power quality areas. The responsibilities have expanded to overall electricity distribution reliability improvement targets. Present responsibility is to take care of our planning principles and technological development. Substation and network automation will have still an important role.”


On the State of Grid Resilience and Asset Protection

“Many and the most of the utilities are utilizing substation and network automation as well as smart meters.  Of course, the automation level is still lower when going downwards to the customer level (low voltage networks). Substation automation is of course ongoing and IEC61850 process bus and sensors will be the next step after IEC61850 station bus. Network and secondary substation automation is starting to evolve. Smart metering level depends on which level the country has required the utilities in this sector. But utilities have also to remember that automation itself is not the savior. Utilities have to specify what they want and how to effectively to use the growing amount of process and fault signals and information. If you are too slow to adopt these technologies, it is difficult to later go along with the latest technology. Of course, you can then avoid the first generation problems of the technology.”


On the Future of Sensors

“At the substations, the sensor technology will enable the possibility to move from traditional magnetic instrument transformers to light, safer and in the future also cheaper measurement technology. On the other hand, the very easy and cheap sensors enable a new opportunity to get new measurements from the process and also enable the possibility to analyze the big amount of data. This data can be sent to the cloud also and analyzed with AI. Better view of the condition of the asset is the result. But you should remember that there are also lots of external reasons for asset problems: weather, external diggers, human errors…”


On Lessons Learned Along the Way

“With automation you can get more data from your assets and faults. This leads to improved reliability. Self-supervision and event- and disturbance records decrease the need of time-based maintenance and on the other hand they make the disturbance analysis more productive. The challenge is to analyze your new data. You have to determine what you want and where you use your data. The operational personnel needs to be trained for the understanding of the new technology.


On Balancing Cybersecurity Risks with Need for Automation 

“Cybersecurity risks are always on top discussion. The biggest problem is still the division between IT and OT people. IT people are afraid of everything and want to close and detect the threats everywhere. OT people (where I come from) want that the process works and usually the most important issue is the isolation of the process system. Some maintenance channels are still needed. This is the case everyone are considering as an important issue but quite rare know enough about it, personally I am not cybersecurity expert.”


On the Important Topics of Discussion to Expect at the Grid Asset Management 2020 Conference

“The most important issue would be to hear the real business cases when some utility has managed to optimize the reliability level, cost level and future trends: tools, strategies and real cases. From the vendor side the most interesting issue would be Asset management systems especially for electricity distribution utilities, not always those industrial examples. One country specific issue is the outsourcing: in Finland we have outsourced everything when most utilities in central and southern Europe do most by themselves. What is the most optimum level of inner expertise?”



If you’re interested in hearing more about Mika’s insights into asset automation, be sure to check out his presentation at the Grid Asset Management 2020 conference, taking place from September 29 to October 1 in Brussels. You can check out the agenda and register for the conference here.

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