From Pilot to Rollout - Scaling Up Remote Substation Monitoring Solutions

Thermal and visual sensors are familiar technology for utilities. Technicians already leverage similar tools when conducting physical inspections at remote substations, and the data provided by these sensors allows utilities to identify potential issues and schedule repairs.

However, using this technology for continuous, 24/7 remote monitoring can feel unfamiliar. While the benefits of reduced maintenance costs, enhanced safety and reliability, and better allocation of scarce technical resources are attractive, utilities may not be ready or able to deploy thermal and visual sensors across their entire network of substations.

Instead, starting small and building up over time not only allows utilities to sustainably invest in their capabilities, but it also helps them to become familiar with the process of procuring, installing, and using the new technology. From there, the solution can be deployed at additional substations, and the utility can begin to transition toward a Condition-Based Maintenance strategy.

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

Step 1) Identify the Reasons for the Solution

As with any new technology, it’s important to take a step back and articulate a project plan before diving in and purchasing new equipment.

Work with both your internal Operations & Maintenance teams and external vendors to understand what you need from the solution. Key questions to ask:

  • What are your main challenges?
  • How does the technology move you closer to overcoming them? 
  • What does a successful deployment look like?
  • What metrics will you use to determine if the project achieves the desired results?

For example, you may identify that you have a number of substations that experience frequent issues, or you may have assets that are nearing their end of life that you would like to extend. Developing a shared understanding of these needs allows you to identify and choose the best solution.

Step 2) Choose a Pilot Project and Develop a Plan

With the key project requirements laid out, you can start identifying substations or sites that fit your criteria. If, for example, you’re currently spending too much time and money on unnecessary truck rolls, you may choose to start with one or two geographically distant substations that are suitable for remote monitoring.

Think of the pilot as an investment in future capabilities – you’ll need to allocate some budget and resources upfront for it to be successful. But, done well, a small-scale pilot achieves two main objectives. First, it allows you to test the solution in a controlled environment with minimal risk. Second, it allows you to work through the plan and make improvements to the process that can be applied and built upon during future deployments.

Step 3) Expand to Additional Substations

If the pilot program is successful, you can start to look at expanding the solution into additional substations. Work with the vendor to identify the low-hanging fruits, or the substations where thermal and visual monitoring solutions can have the most impact at the lowest cost.

The primary goal of these early deployments is to gain the benefits of the solution while also demonstrating to key stakeholders how the investment moves the business forward.

Depending on the budget, the priorities of the utility, and the availability of approved contractors, you can then set the schedule for further rollouts until you have remote monitoring at all the chosen substations.

Step 4) Create Specifications for New Substations

While upgrading existing substations is important, utilities should also incorporate the technology into the specifications for new substations. At this stage, work shifts from the R&D team to the Planning, Project, and Operations teams. The process becomes more formalized, and the general approach to each installation is more standardized, allowing you to learn from each project and install the sensors more quickly and effectively with each new project.

Getting the Most Out of Your Pilot Project

Remember, initiating a pilot project for a new technology means making an investment in the business. A successful pilot project should allow you to make stronger decisions about the viability of a larger-scale rollout, while also giving you time to overcome some of the initial challenges that come with a new system.

Ensure that you allocate the necessary resources and budget to the pilot project. There are no lessons learned from a project that isn’t seen through to completion. Work closely with a trusted partner who’s been there before and can guide you through each step, and take the time needed at the beginning to choose the right substation and deployment scenario.

Once installed, utility-grade thermal & visual monitoring solutions, like those provided by Systems With Intelligence, allow utilities to move away from scheduled maintenance toward a Condition Based Maintenance Strategy. By starting with a pilot project and scaling up over time, utilities can achieve the full benefits of this new approach while mitigating risk and aligning the deployment with the overall goals of the organization.

Ali Hamze is Vice President of Sales at Systems with Intelligence.