Temporary Substation Monitoring - A Flexible Approach to Security and Troubleshooting

Utility substations are often left unattended. Both remote and urban facilities typically operate with little or no direct supervision, especially outside of regular working hours. This makes them vulnerable to a range of security, environmental, and performance risks that could lead to damaged equipment, lost revenue, and outages. 

Thermal and visual substation monitoring solutions combined with AI-powered software provide continuous, 24/7 coverage of utility infrastructure. But while some sites may benefit from a permanent deployment of sensors, there are times when a temporary solution may be the best approach.

Mobile and temporary monitoring offers a flexible, responsive, and cost-effective solution by monitoring a specific site over a defined period of time. Rather than procuring and installing sensors, utilities can bring in a self-contained trailer-mounted unit that includes independent power systems and communicates through the available cellular network. At the end of the project, the portable unit can be transported and redeployed to a new site without any additional infrastructure. 

This article will highlight three ways that utilities can deploy and use a temporary substation monitoring solution. 

1) Security Monitoring at Construction Sites

Construction sites are highly susceptible to theft, vandalism, or other forms of unauthorized entry. Heavy equipment, valuable tools, construction materials, and other high-value parts that are left unsecured are especially attractive to malicious actors. 

Construction site crime is a significant problem across industries. A recent report found that the total cost ranged from $300 million to $1 billion in the US alone each year. Copper theft is one of the most common crimes, making utility construction sites even more likely to be targeted. The US Department of Energy estimates that, when including damages and lost revenue, metal theft costs companies $1 billion per year. 

Temporary substation monitoring solutions enhance security by providing continuous, 24/7 coverage of a substation while undergoing construction or renovation. Because construction sites are generally busy during the day, utilities can disarm the alarms while personnel are on-site and re-engage them once the last worker has left. Inclusion and exclusion zones can then be set up to specify exactly where people can and cannot access.

If an intrusion is detected, advanced AI determines if an alarm will be triggered. Upon receiving the alarm, agents in the Security Operations Center (SOC) immediately have access to a live view of the site and can initiate a specific action plan based on the security requirements of the utility. They can also directly engage the intruders through on-site speakers or trigger lighting, strobes, alarms, or other defensive measures designed to prevent damage to equipment. 

2) Reducing Animal Damage

It’s not just people that can damage a substation or its components. Animals are among the most common causes of outages at public utilities. Raccoons, squirrels, birds, and other creatures can easily enter a site, crawl along equipment, and cause a short circuit or power surge. The resulting damage can trigger an outage and cost upwards of hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars if the incident takes out a large transformer.

AI-powered software automatically detects the presence of animals and can identify the species to determine the level of risk and trigger an alarm. Agents can then notify utilities and take action, either by dispatching someone to the site to scare the animal away or by de-energizing the transformer and shifting the load to another to reduce the risk of catastrophic failure. 

3) Remote Troubleshooting and Diagnostics

Finally, temporary substation monitoring solutions can be deployed to known problem areas to detect transient or infrequent issues. For example, a component may operate within normal limits at certain loads but exceed them during periods of high demand or severe weather. This type of irregular, unpredictable issue is very difficult to detect with periodic physical inspections as it requires a technician to be on-site at the exact moment the fault occurs. 

Travel time accounts for as much as 20 percent of a utility’s total operations & maintenance budget, and repeatedly sending crews to inspect a substation quickly becomes a time-consuming and expensive exercise that draws scarce resources away from other initiatives. 

Instead, utilities can deploy a temporary monitoring system to the troubled station and monitor the health and performance of the asset across loads and environmental conditions. When the issue is detected, technicians can conduct remote troubleshooting and diagnose the issue to prioritize a response depending on the severity and the estimated time to failure. 

Once the equipment is repaired and the site is back to normal operations, the mobile monitoring unit can be packed up and redeployed to another location. 

Enhancing Substation Security and Operations With Temporary Monitoring 

Utility substations are critical infrastructure that are vital to the reliable flow of electricity. While some sites would benefit most from a permanent deployment of thermal and visual sensors, others may simply require a temporary solution that increases flexibility, responsiveness, and cost-effectiveness. 

With temporary and mobile monitoring solutions, utilities can enhance security at vulnerable locations such as construction sites, reduce the risk of damage from animals and other environmental threats, or conduct remote troubleshooting and diagnostics to detect and repair issues before they cause a serious failure.