By Nichola Davies
IND Technology has developed an Early Fault Detection (EFD) system that can pinpoint faults in the distribution network to the precise point of the fault, monitoring the network 24 hours a day. For comparison’s sake, their competitor, the line inspector, may not inspect the part of the network where a fault occurs for three years. It’s easy to see how it’s a game-changer for the distribution industry, preventing potentially catastrophic faults and bushfires.
IND Technology’s Early Fault Detection technology has been in development for 15 years, but it has just kicked over from prototype and trial phase to a fully commercialised product through a partnership with Melbourne’s RMIT. The partnership means it can now afford IP and allows the product’s launch to other markets around the world. It’s already going gangbusters in California where successful trials have led to purchases from a Californian utility, and has seen further interest in Hong Kong and New Zealand, as well as at home.
IND Technology CEO Alan Wong explains the solution is made of hardware and software, and has a web portal that users can access to see data and sophisticated visualisations.
“In terms of the hardware you can think of it like a listening station, so a sensor and a control box mounted on a pole every 5km,” Mr Wong says.
“Normally you mount one close to the substation, the next set of sensors will be 5km away and so on. The EFD sensor is fully contactless so it sits 1.2m below the conductor, it has no contact whatsoever, so it listens for the high frequency signal travelling across the line and because all the hardware are synchronised to the GPS signal using an algorithm, it allows us to locate where the high frequency source is generated.
“Normally it’s to find things like broken conductor strings, discharge in ageing insulators or internal discharge in a transformer.”
When the system identifies a problem, it then sends alerts to the operator via SMS or email. Mr Wong says they’ve found 20-30 of cases of early signs of failure in overhead equipment in trials and pilots that have been run already, including preventing a pole-top fire.
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In California’s pilot, the technology identified damage due to conductor flashing after 90mph winds hit the network.
“All of a sudden this signal appears in our monitoring system and we manage to pinpoint it’s 10 metres from a particular pole. Then all you need to do is go to that pole, walk 10 metres and look up and see the damage.”
It’s so impressive because the next best thing is the linesperson, who due to the arduous task of it, can inspect lines as infrequently as every three years.
“One of the broken conductor strings that we detected was on a line that was detected the year before, so it wouldn’t be inspected for another couple of years … and it’s 20 metres above ground in a valley, so even if you are there, it’s almost impossible to spot,” Mr Wong says.
“So a line inspector could easily miss that. So we think already we have avoided three to four major fires using this system.”
Mr Wong and his team are proud the invention is an Australian one, borne out of Melbourne, manufactured in a plant in Melbourne and the monitoring is based in Melbourne CBD.
“We’re very proud of what we have achieved so far,” Mr Wong says.
“The Californians especially like our technology.”
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IND Technology has signed up its second customer with installation currently underway in California, with a likely third to sign on shortly. The company is also heading over to New Zealand where there’s strong interest from two Kiwi utilities.
Back home, AusNet Services are installing roughly 100 units in Melbourne, which will start in March this year, and Endeavour Energy will have already started its install in New South Wales at the time of print.
As well as applications for the energy industry, it can also be applied in oil, gas, mining – basically any conductor that carries current and voltage. A trial is currently underway in Hong Kong’s railway network, which will run until the end of 2020.
It has applications for the renewbales sector as well, as it can pick up early signs of deterioration in solar panels caused by leakage, and more.
Under the agreement with RMIT, the university will retain rights to use the technology for research and teaching purposes.
The IND Technology senior management team is made up of leading research and industry figures.
Chairman of IND Technology and Monash University Professor Tony Marxsen recently chaired the Australian Energy Market Operator was previously lead powerline bushfire safety researcher for the state of Victoria following the Black Saturday bushfires.
IND Technology chief operating officer Andrew Walsh, an RMIT alumnus and current RMIT Executive MBA candidate, has held senior technical and commercial roles in the energy sector, including in delivering the recommendations of the Royal Commission into the Black Saturday bushfires.