Achieving a Positive ROI With Touchless™ Monitoring for Remote Substations

In most electrical utilities, a significant share of the overall operations and maintenance (O&M) budget is allocated to conducting inspections, maintenance, and repairs at substations. Keeping this critical infrastructure up and running is vital but challenging work, as utilities must ensure that high-value assets are operating correctly in remote locations that are difficult to access.

Touchless™ Monitoring can help utilities to overcome these challenges by providing a continuous, real-time view of the substation.

Before investing in any new technology, however, utilities should consider the potential benefits and determine whether the new solution will deliver a positive return on investment (ROI) over the life of the system.

This article will explore three of the main ways utilities benefit from thermal and visual sensors while showing how these contribute to a positive ROI.

Reduced Operations & Maintenance Costs

Any discussion around ROI should start with the financial benefits. With O&M costs making up such a substantial percentage of a utility’s total budget, any reduction here can have a significant impact on overall performance and profitability.

A typical utility allocates around 15 percent of the total O&M budget to planned maintenance. This mostly includes manual diagnostic testing and inspections, with repairs and corrective maintenance only performed when a problem is found. While planned maintenance is generally easy for O&M teams to manage, it is also highly inefficient as it constantly requires crews to travel to sites, identify any issues, and return to conduct the repair.

In fact, as much as 20 percent of the total O&M budget is due to travel time costs.

Touchless™ Monitoring lowers maintenance costs by reducing the need for physical inspections. With a Condition-Based Maintenance approach, utilities can identify issues remotely, determine maintenance priorities, and dispatch crews based on the actual condition of the asset. Teams are only sent out when needed, reducing travel costs and achieving up to a 50 percent reduction in planned O&M costs.

Improved Reliability

Reducing O&M costs is not the only way to achieve a positive ROI. Reliability is also a key metric, especially for investor-owned utilities that must deliver positive results to shareholders.

Improving reliability can result in big savings and greater profitability. For example, a single transformer failure can cost up to $15 million and take up to 2 years to replace, in addition to fines, reputational damage, and lost revenue caused by an outage.

Continuous, real-time monitoring reduces the risk of downtime. Utilities can detect minor issues and schedule a maintenance crew before a more severe failure occurs. Likewise, 24/7 monitoring makes it possible to identify transient issues that only occur under certain conditions and may not be present during manual inspections.

All told, fewer failures and improved reliability can result in valuable savings. In one example, a utility expected to see a 20 percent decrease in the number of breakdowns after installing thermal sensors, resulting in a savings of upwards of $9 million each year.

Enhanced Safety

Beyond the financial benefits, thermal and visual sensors can contribute to a safer and more secure facility.

Each year, up to 80 utility workers are killed from injuries sustained on the job. Many of these incidents can be avoided, and utilities have a responsibility to keep workers as safe as possible.

Thermal and visual sensors provide workers with greater situational awareness, allowing them to spot potential safety risks before entering the substation. For example, the thermal sensor may show an abnormal temperature reading on one of the transformer bushings, indicating a possible failure. With this information, maintenance crews can take steps to repair the issue or shut down the equipment to avoid the risk of injury.

On the other hand, a visual sensor allows utilities to monitor crews while on-site and ensure that all safety protocols are properly followed. In the case of an accident, utilities can review the video recording to determine the root cause and take steps to further enhance safety to mitigate the risk going forward.

But the real safety benefit comes from having crews spend less time on site. Substations are hazardous environments, and there’s an inherent risk every time a worker steps into the facility. By removing the need for physical inspections, Touchless™ Monitoring systems reduce the time workers are exposed to these hazards. Crews also spend less time out on the road, further reducing the risk of an accident on-route.

Achieving a Positive ROI With Touchless™ Monitoring Solutions

While there is an initial investment required to acquire and install the system, these advantages quickly offset the cost and deliver a positive ROI. Depending on the size of the substation, the number of sensors deployed, and the current operations and maintenance costs allocated to the substation, utilities can expect to achieve a payback period of around 2 to 3 years. With equipment designed to last at least a decade in harsh environments, the system can pay for itself multiple times before utilities need to upgrade or replace the sensors.

Thermal imaging technology is already widely used by utilities but is most often used by workers during manual inspections. Touchless ™ Monitoring solutions allow utilities to monitor remote substations from a centralized location, reducing O&M costs, improving reliability, and creating a safer environment for workers.