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Sensors – The New Frontier for Grid Reliability

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writer and researcher BrightGreen PR

Julian Jackson is a writer whose interests encompass business and technology, cryptocurrencies, energy and the environment, as well as photography and film. His portfolio is here:...

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  • Nov 2, 2020

As part of a Smart Grid, installing sensors makes a lot of sense


Energy distribution systems criss-cross the country. In many places the distribution and sub-transmission lines do not follow roads. They frequently span stretches of remote, unpopulated areas which means that faults can go unnoticed. Out in the wilderness, impending equipment failure, downed conductors and other issues that can spark a fire are rarely visible to utility maintenance staff until a serious disruption begins. Fortunately, those same equipment problems are visible to sensors, an essential grid management package.


Smart Grid Sensors


The sensors line engineers need are smart grid sensors. They can be attached to the line quickly and send back three vital parameters: voltage, current and a time stamp. This will enable maintenance crews to find the fault location, particularly if these are subtle faults that are not apparent to Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems.

An example would be when an energized conductor has fallen off. According to the University of Texas, up to 30 per cent of defects are down to a single line of conductor breaks and ends up on the ground but this draws too little electrical current to blow a fuse or trip a circuit breaker. The energised line could cause a fire, particularly in the dry season.

Another hazard that may not blow the circuit could be a loose guy wire holding a utility pole in place. When a guy wire is broken, it can contact an energized power line, particularly on a windy day. That is an intermittent hazard that probably will not trip a breaker, but it is still quite dangerous because it may produce arcing, which can spark fires.

By using smart sensors, utility command centers will see that there is a fault. In many cases they will know exactly where to send technicians to fix the broken guy wire. Other failings that can start fires include conductor slap – where lines accidentally contact each other. These difficult-to-detect issues can be recognized by smart sensors.

Smart sensors also have the advantage of being cheap to install, which is good for the bottom line. Utilities operating in fire-sensitive zones should consider putting a few smart grid sensors at multiple locations on every feeder. They will transmit data that no other equipment is providing and reveal anomalies that could spark disaster. Smart grid sensors detect line disturbances, which represent vegetation contact, animal contact or equipment starting to fail, three leading causes of fire outbreaks. So they make a lot of sense as part of the development of smart grids nationwide.

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