Five Things To Know Before Installing Thermal & Visual Sensors at Remote Substations

Utility-grade thermal & visual sensors offer numerous benefits over traditional approaches to substation monitoring. By allowing both the Operations & Maintenance team and Asset Management group to monitor the health and performance of several substations simultaneously and automatically, remote monitoring solutions reduce the cost of maintenance, improve reliability, and enhance worker safety.

In most cases, it is relatively straightforward to install and mount the sensors. And as you continue to deploy more sensors across multiple sites, you’ll quickly become familiar with the process and improve with each successful installation.

That said, because every substation is different, there is no one-size-fits-all approach, and there are also some important considerations that go beyond the sensors themselves.

This article is part of a series helping utilities achieve the full benefits of thermal & visual monitoring solutions for remote substations. 

Tip 1) Develop a Project Plan and Design

We’ve highlighted this in other articles in this series, but it’s worth repeating here as well. The first step to any new deployment is to develop a project plan. Take a step back to clearly articulate the goals of the project, the reasons for the investment, and the results you expect to achieve.

Doing this at the start will ensure that you receive the right solution and helps to avoid any delays or setbacks later in the project.

Based on the site layout drawings or satellite images of the substation, work with your vendor to identify what assets need to be monitored, where sensors should be placed, and whether you need to install any poles or additional structures to mount the sensors on.

At this stage, it may also be helpful to schedule a site visit to confirm that the actual layout of the substation reflects the drawings, determine any potential hazards or installation challenges, and to ensure the project design works within the real-world environment.

Tip 2) Anticipate Shutdowns for Minimal Impact

Safely entering the substation, installing any additional poles or new structures, laying cables, and mounting the sensors generally requires that part of the substation is shut down, ideally without impacting the flow of power to customers.

Therefore, the full timeline for any project is highly dependent on your ability to schedule shutdowns and redirect power from other substations. 

Because the installation can be done in phases, plan for several smaller shutdowns based on where in the substation the work is taking place rather than a single large outage.

Tip 3) Know Your Communications and Networking Requirements

The thermal & visual sensors need to be connected to a network to transmit data back to a central location. This could be done using your existing internal network or over a secure cloud service.

Cybersecurity is always an important consideration, especially as utilities become more connected. While this type of data is not overly sensitive, you should still have security measures in place to mitigate the risk that it is accessible to malicious actors.

Finally, limited bandwidth is one of the most common issues when installing a new system. Good quality video requires a lot of bandwidth, especially if several sensors are continuously transmitting video from multiple substations. Most applications don’t require a high resolution, so video quality compromises to fit within the available bandwidth is one possible approach. However, network upgrades should be considered to ensure the best possible performance.

In all cases, the vendor will work closely with your IT department to determine the network, security, and bandwidth requirements for each project.

Tip 4) Integrate the Hardware and Software

Beyond the installation, you also need to configure the systems that collect, store, and transmit the data. These include the computers, digital video servers (DVS), software, and archive servers. The small form-factor hardware can usually be installed in the existing rack at the substation without the need for further upgrades.

From there, configure the SCADA such that it can collect data from the computers and determine which protocol (DNP, IEC 61850-MMS, or, less frequently, MODBUS) will be used.

By integrating each sensor into the central control system, the Asset Management group can gain a comprehensive view of the entire system within a single dashboard.

Tip 5) Deploy Servers for Archived Data

As mentioned in this article, a lot of data is produced from the sensors, especially if they are transmitting video from the substation.

There are many cases where you’ll want to view historical data. You may want to check footage of a major system event, diagnose the cause of an outage, or collect data to meet reporting requirements.

As part of the installation, ensure you have access to sufficient server space to store, access, and analyze the data. This can quickly add up to terabytes of information, so plan to be able to scale this up as sensors are deployed across the network of substations.

Work With Your Vendor to Achieve a Successful Deployment

Thermal & visual sensors enable utilities to transition toward a Condition-Based Maintenance approach. But before you can achieve the full benefits of the technology, you need to ensure a successful deployment.

Work closely with your vendor throughout the project and engage with them as early as possible. They can guide you through the design and installation of the solution based on their experience with similar projects and help you avoid any common pitfalls or challenges.

Over time, you’ll become more familiar with the installation process and develop a consistent and repeatable approach, putting you on the path toward lower maintenance costs and improved performance.