November 7, 2023

From data to reliability: unleashing online monitoring in power substations

In our increasingly electrified world, the role of power substations is pivotal. These critical hubs serve as the nerve center of the power grid, managing and controlling the flow of electricity from generation plants to homes and businesses. The efficient operation of substation equipment is a non-negotiable aspect of ensuring that the lights stay on, and businesses keep running. But here's the catch – as power systems grow more complex, maintaining the reliability and efficiency of substation equipment has become an even more critical priority.

So, what's the solution? The answer lies in online monitoring systems. These systems provide real-time insights into the condition of substation components, enabling proactive maintenance and reducing costly downtime.

Components of Online Monitoring Systems

One of the key components of online monitoring systems is the sensors collecting the raw data.  Sensors can be retrofitted to existing equipment or seamlessly integrated into new assets. They're like the guardians of your power equipment, measuring critical parameters such as temperature, voltage, current, and gas levels. These sensors collect data and, like dutiful messengers, transmit it to a central monitoring system.

Communication infrastructure plays a crucial role allowing the data to flow from the sensors to the monitoring systems. Whether it's ethernet, fiber optics, wireless protocols, or a blend of these, the choice depends on various factors, such as the volume of data, security requirements, and existing communication infrastructure.

Once the data arrives at the monitoring system, the real benefits occur through data analysis and visualization tools. These tools dissect the data and can employ advanced algorithms like statistical analysis, machine learning, and pattern recognition. They're on the lookout for early signs of equipment faults or even predicting future failures, providing maintenance teams with actionable insights.

The Benefits of Online Monitoring

1. Online Early Fault Detection
Online early fault detection reduces the chances of minor issues snowballing into major problems. Imagine having the ability to predict when a piece of equipment is about to misbehave and act before it does – that's the power of online monitoring.

2. Condition-Based Maintenance
These systems open the door to condition-based maintenance, a game-changer in the world of asset management. Instead of sticking to rigid schedules for maintenance, which can sometimes lead to unnecessary work or critical issues slipping through the cracks, condition-based maintenance plans are crafted based on the real-time condition of the equipment. This not only saves costs but also boosts operational efficiency.

3. Enhanced Reliability and Safety
By continuously monitoring substation equipment, utilities get a comprehensive assessment of how well their assets are performing. This data-driven insight enables them to identify inefficiencies, optimize operations, and improve asset utilization. For instance, by analyzing data related to transformer loading and temperature, operators can ensure optimal usage without compromising safety limits.

Moreover, it's all about safety – both for personnel and the equipment. Real-time monitoring of substation equipment allows operators, field personnel, and asset managers to identify potential risks and take preventative measures, such as de-energizing equipment for maintenance or replacements. This kind of vigilance is especially crucial as it minimizes the potential for accidents and catastrophic failures, ultimately ensuring a safer working environment.

The Challenges in Implementation

Now, you might be thinking, "This all sounds fantastic, but what's the catch?" Well, like all great innovations, there are challenges to overcome.

1. Cost
Implementing online monitoring systems can be a significant upfront investment, and ongoing maintenance costs can add up, especially for large-scale power systems. Before diving in, utilities need to weigh these costs against the benefits.

2. Complexity of Managing the Data
The sheer volume of data can be overwhelming, and efficient data storage and management are essential. This includes considerations for data integrity, security, and scalability as data volumes grow over time. Data analysis can also be a complex task, often requiring skilled personnel proficient in data analytics and machine learning.

3. Cybersecurity
As more substation equipment becomes interconnected, cybersecurity concerns grow. Online monitoring systems involve the transmission of sensitive data across networks, making them potential targets for cyber-attacks. Robust cybersecurity measures are a must to protect data integrity, confidentiality, and availability.

4. Integration with Existing Infrastructure
The power grid is a mix of old and new equipment, and integrating online monitoring systems with legacy systems or equipment can be a daunting task. Differences in protocols, communication standards, or data formats can complicate the process. Retrofitting older equipment with sensors may require significant effort and investment, making it essential to perform a cost-benefit analysis before proceeding.

Real-World Success Stories

Now, let's move from theory to real-world examples that showcase the potential of online monitoring systems. These case studies provide valuable insights into the benefits utilities can achieve when they embrace this technology.

Case 1: Asset Performance Management of High Voltage SF6 Breakers
Problem: Utility A wanted to identify SF6 breakers with gas leaks before alarms went off

In this case, Utility A implemented a pilot project to improve asset management and reduce maintenance costs for high-voltage SF6 circuit breakers. Instead of installing sensors, the project relied on inspection data, breaker gas pressure and ambient temperature. By analyzing and visualizing this data through a cloud interface, the utility achieved early detection of SF6 gas leaks, enabling proactive maintenance and cost savings. It's a prime example of how online monitoring can be a cost-effective solution for enhancing reliability.

Case 2: Online Monitoring of Power Transformers
Problem: Utility B aimed for real-time monitoring of a subset of their power transformers equipped with various sensors

Utility B's online monitoring system focused on a subset of substation power transformers equipped with sensors. The data collected, such as gas concentrations, oil temperature, and load, was processed using analytical models. These models predicted faults, monitored hydrogen gas trends, assessed moisture levels, and correlated CO2 concentrations with load. By monitoring these parameters in real-time, Utility B detected anomalies and potential faults early, allowing for proactive maintenance and intervention actions. This not only minimizes the potential for unplanned failures but also sets the stage for cost-effective and efficient asset management.

Powering the Future with Online Monitoring

Online monitoring systems are altering how utilities manage and maintain power substations. They offer early fault detection, condition-based maintenance, enhanced reliability, and improved safety, leading to cost savings and increased customer satisfaction. As the energy landscape continues to evolve, utilities that embrace online monitoring will be better equipped to meet the demands.

If you want to empower your grid and stay ahead in the energy game, it might be time to consider the benefits of online monitoring for your substation equipment.


Russell Samasuwo is a professional engineer with wide-ranging experience in transmission and distribution systems with a focus on asset management, regulatory and capital planning, operations, and project management. Prior to joining Engineered Intelligence, Russell worked for a large utility and was responsible for managing several distribution assets including but not limited to poles, underground cable, overheard conductors, and transformers.

As the Director of Client Services at Engineered Intelligence, Russell supports clients in their planning processes and analytics, as they leverage ENGIN insights to develop grid investment strategies, plans, and tactics to keep their grids reliable and resilient.

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