Reducing cost and risk by predicting distribution line failures

By Terry Krieg, Power electrical engineer and Lord Consulting consultant

There are few low-cost technology investments available in the market today that can provide the means to reduce operational costs, improve investment decision-making at the same time providing increased distribution line reliability and safety.

Decreased revenue outcomes for many Australian utilities means both operational and capital expenditure must be reduced in real terms. This requires a radical change in emphasis in asset management and work practices and new thinking to adequately manage risks and performance.

A new technology known as Distribution Fault Anticipation, offers a means to manage this situation with significant benefits in reducing operating cost and increasing reliability and safety of distribution networks.

Distribution Fault Anticipation: a new technological solution

Distribution Fault Anticipation (DFA) was pioneered by the power industry in the US more than 20 years ago and is now available in the Australasian region.

The DFA technology uses waveform pattern analysis of current and voltage waveforms to segregate and characterise normal and abnormal events occurring on MV lines. The waveform patterns representing abnormal events, generally indicating a failing line component, are characterised and reported in plain English via the web directly to the mobile devices of operations or maintenance team members to assist in facilitating a maintenance response.

No other technology available in the market today can offer what the DFA can, either in concept or contribution.

Commercial challenges for distribution line management

DFA is able to assist utility owners to address the new challenges of increased reliability, reduced risk with reduced maintenance expenditure – a seemingly impossible combination.

A technological solution for real-time condition assessment of lines

In the industry there are few technological devices available to assist in monitoring distribution line condition. Traditionally this has been achieved using physical line inspection to detect the signs of early failure of line components. Distribution line companies must now obtain better asset condition information with less field resources and still deliver high levels of customer service.

In distribution lines companies obtaining information on line asset condition is traditionally a slow process, methodically carried out, and very expensively acquired (for example, typically by field patrols and line inspection). An ideal technical solution to address this issue would be a device capable of remote sensing and prompt reporting of all asset issues faster than would be possible by traditional means and to assist in the location and proactive repair of these failing assets via a managed and targeted response.

Reducing the risk of bushfires started from power lines

Risks associated with fire starts from distribution lines are well known. As an industry, we should be taking every possible step to improve safety and reducing risk to avoid major fires started from the distribution system. By providing real-time condition information and the ability to quickly identify and detect a range of fire inducing line conditions, DFA is comparatively a low cost solution and can significantly reduce the risk of fire starts with a consequent commercial, social and community benefit in reducing the risk of a major fire.

What can DFA offer line asset management?

Line performance statistics, traditionally used to inform asset decisions, provide a lagging indication of performance and often do not assist in determining the root cause of line failures. DFA provides information on the real time health of the asset over the entire life cycle, regardless of the failure mode, age or asset lifecycle characteristics.

This information supports improved maintenance, targeted rectification works and the application of condition-based maintenance. In addition, real-time condition assessment assists in evaluating the effectiveness of maintenance after it is undertaken and also assists in determining the condition of a line prior to the bushfire season.

In some cases, better condition information allows deferral of capital expenditure providing major commercial benefit for the utility. The information provided by DFA can assist in improved investment decisions.

Improved condition information provided by DFA enables improved operational efficiency and effectiveness for field crews, enhanced safety and real operational expenditure savings.

Implementation of DFA

The unique DFA solution for distribution line management enables a change to existing work practices to better utilise limited maintenance resources. Implementation of the hardware is relatively simple requiring only minimum change to the substation to monitor the associated feeder.

Conclusion

Australian distribution lines businesses are facing significant commercial and operational challenges to improve asset knowledge, operational efficiency and maintenance practice. Distribution Fault Anticipation is now available to the industry and unlike any other technology offers innovation to address the commercial challenges for line management companies providing a means to manage distribution networks with improved operational efficiency, cost, risk and reliability outcomes.

Implementation of the DFA technology allows lines companies and asset managers the next clear step change to a new phase in the evolution of line asset management practice globally.