Reducing Substation Maintenance Costs With Utility-Grade Thermal and Visual Sensors

The Scenario – Monitoring the Health and Performance of Remote Substation Assets

A midsized utility operates numerous remote electrical substations distributed across a wide geographic region. Physical inspections are conducted on a periodic, scheduled basis using handheld thermal scanners and other equipment to determine the health of substation assets, diagnose issues, and prioritize repairs.

Crews are typically dispatched without any prior knowledge of the condition of the equipment. Not only does this increase the cost and time required for maintenance, but it also increases the likelihood of an issue going undetected and puts crews at risk of entering an unsafe environment.

The utility has already deployed commercial security cameras to deter vandalism, copper theft, malicious actors, and other security threats. However, these cameras only provide a limited view of the site and do not detect information on the condition or performance of the assets.

To reduce maintenance costs, improve reliability, and allocate scarce maintenance resources more effectively, the utility requires a thermal and visual monitoring solution that is designed and built for the electrical utility industry.

The Challenge – Deploying Sensors in Remote Locations

Utility substations are often subjected to harsh conditions. Severe weather events such as storms, extreme temperatures, rain, and snow combine with dust and other debris to damage commercial grade equipment. Substations also produce electromagnetic interference which can damage sensitive electronic equipment that is not designed with proper isolation.  

Similarly, the remote nature of electrical substations means utilities may not have access to existing communication infrastructure or a reliable source of power.

While commercial security cameras provide some visibility into the site, they are not built to withstand these challenging environments. Likewise, they only provide a video feed, meaning maintenance crews still need to conduct physical and thermal inspections. And because they were built for general use, they typically lack integrations with standard utility systems, software, and hardware.

On the other hand, many traditional utility monitoring solutions are prohibitively expensive and require months of lead time for planning, system design, internal approvals, and installation. Deployment can be further complicated if they require the IT department to provide access to the internal network.

Because of the added requirements for installation and the higher costs associated with the sensors, these traditional solutions may not fit the needs of a utility for remote sites.

The Solution – The IM500 Thermal and Visual Sensor

The IM500 Thermal and Visual Sensor from Systems With Intelligence is a simple, cost-effective, and easy-to-deploy sensor designed for the utility industry and built on the latest IoT technology.

Thermal sensors allow operators to take temperature readings of critical assets such as transformers, bushings, arresters, insulation, and other components. Crews can be dispatched in response to an abnormal heat signature and arrive at the site with information about the potential issue, allowing them to effectively conduct maintenance and repairs before an outage occurs.

The embedded cell modem connects directly to secure LTE-M mobile networks , enabling the sensor to transmit thermal and visual data without accessing the utility’s internal network. The device can be powered directly through the substation’s junction box or by solar panels added to the top of the unit, allowing the sensors to be deployed completely outside of the utility infrastructure.  

Compact and lightweight, the IM500 Thermal and Visual Sensor can be installed on existing poles, or equipment without the need for outages or the involvement of the IT department.

IP67 rated for extreme conditions, the IM500 sensor is engineered to withstand 10 years of harsh weather and conditions. Internal shielding protects sensitive components against electromagnetic interference, further extending the life of the hardware.

The Features

  • Dual Thermal and Visual Sensors
  • Utility-Grade Engineering for 10-Year Lifespan
  • Secure 3G/4G/LTE-M Cellular Connection to IoT Cloud
  • IP67 Rated for Extreme Environments
  • I/O Connections for External Sensors
  • Connection to SCADA & Asset MGMT
  • Easy-to-Use Cloud-Based Dashboard

The Benefits

  • Fast and simple to install for immediate data reporting
  • Cost-effective for multi-site deployments
  • Advanced analytics for real-time operator alerts
  • Early detection of issues such as overheating, flooding, tampering, etc.
  • Reduced reliance on truck rolls and physical inspections
  • Lower maintenance costs and improved asset performance

The Results – Utility-Grade Sensors Engineered for Remote Substation Monitoring

Rather than arriving at the substation blind to potential risks, maintenance crews can monitor the health of substations from a central location and be dispatched in response to a known issue.

With regular thermal and visual snapshots, utilities can begin to shift away from scheduled maintenance toward a condition-based maintenance strategy. By responding proactively to issues before they evolve into a larger threat, utilities can reduce maintenance costs and mitigate the risk of an outage.

Further, with better visibility into critical assets, crews can operate more safely and conduct specific repairs when on-site.

With the IM500 Thermal and Visual Monitoring System from Systems With Intelligence, electrical utilities gain the ability to monitor the health and performance of their entire network of remote substations.

John Nam is Vice President Engineering at Systems With Intelligence.