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MOBILE TECHNOLOGY – Allowing utilities to look into the future without abandoning legacy systems

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Utilities are the epitome of field service and of workforce mobilization. They know better than many other industries the burden of paper-based processes and the burgeoning growth opportunities that are possible with a wider adoption of advanced technology systems. Though not perceived as fast innovators, utilities have in fact been long-time accelerators of mobile computer innovation. Believe it or not, the industry has actually been using mobile PC technologies for at least two decades, long before the first iPad came to market in 2010. Electric utilities played arguably the most influential role in the early design and development of the rugged tablet PC form factor that almost every global industry has become reliant on today.  In fact, Sierra Pacific Power Company was confident in the power of mobile computers over 10 years before they gained mass market popularity. The electric utility (now part of NV Energy) was among the first companies worldwide to invest in the truly mobile, field-service ready computers in the late 1990s. Read more

MISSION: CRITICAL – The pros and cons of diesel rotary versus static systems

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Mission critical facilities are broadly defined as containing any operation that, if interrupted, will cause a negative impact on business activities, ranging from losing revenue to jeopardizing legal conformity to (in extreme cases) loss of life. Data centers, call centers, hospitals, manufacturing processes and military installations are the more common types of buildings that could be considered mission critical.

 

The role of an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) in these applications is clear; there must be a temporary power bridge to support the load between the loss of utility and the transfer to diesel generator.  The computerized equipment such as server, storage and network devices that run these processes are sensitive to fluctuations in power quality. As a solution, these fluctuations are mitigated with the use of a UPS system.  These UPS systems can be divided into two broad categories based on their method of energy storage:

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Utility Proactively Tests Underground Cable

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Distribution companies are continually looking for ways to improve system reliability, all while conserving capital investments and operational costs. With an aging infrastructure, one of the main issues that utilities face is a way to assess the actual condition of their capital assets.

With respect to underground cables, utilities can achieve enhanced reliability by developing a smarter asset management strategy. Historically, utilities used a reactive-based maintenance approach: when a cable fails, have it replaced. However, with increasing proportions of cables approaching end of life, this method is not sustainable because it consumes a significant portion of the operation and maintenance budget.  Simply put, for most utilities, not enough capital dollars are available to replace all of the aged cables. For this reason, utilities must employ an effective strategy to adopt condition-based maintenance to balance this issue.

Many utilities have switched to condition-based maintenance programs to more efficiently spend their capital budgets. Generally, utilities diagnose the health of a cable based on its age, and they expect cables to last 25 to 30 years. The age of a cable, however, is not always an indication of the cable’s quality. Read more

CIP COMPLIANCE YIELDS SECURITY COMPLACENCY

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As the big push behind NERC CIP v5/v6 comes to some form of “conclusion”, most U.S. utility executives are breathing a huge sigh of relief. Their efforts to make their high and medium impact facilities compliant are finally completing.  However for some insiders, there is a concern that a state of compliance complacency is now manifesting in the U.S.

  • The expectation is that billions of dollars in compliance spending should have realized “enough” improvements in security … “for now”
  • Some larger utilities refute the need to spend any additional money on compliance motivated security improvements.

As a result, the industry is moving slowly to meet the requirements for low impact facilities, systems and assets, consequently it may also be delaying other critical security initiatives.  This will likely have undesired consequences.

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Advanced Survey Technologies Deliver Clear View of Geologic Hazards

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Electric utilities commonly use trained foresters, traversing thousands of miles, to manually identify vegetation or other geographic hazards posing risks to transmission infrastructure. For one utility in the Western United States, the challenging terrain and accuracy limitations of laser range finders used to visually identify at-risk trees resulted in 1,424 trees assessed as requiring maintenance, potentially costing $200,000.

 

Months later, surveying the same assets using high-resolution LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) on fixed wing aircraft, the utility determined only 35 trees needed management, including 17 trees not originally identified in the forester’s survey. Ultimately the use of new technology saved the utility more than $150,000 in maintenance fees.

 

LiDAR and other improvements in geological hazard mapping are proven to reduce maintenance costs, minimize outage risks, improve safety of field workers and deliver greater shareholder value. Read more

Transformer Monitoring & Protection

Utilities Bank on IoT for Network Reliability Improvement to Decrease Lost Revenue

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Power grids around the world are getting smarter thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT). While Smart Grid technologies are making the headlines, and poised to grow to more than $118 billion by 2019, according to November 2015 research from analyst firm Transparency Market Research—many utilities just aren’t ready to make the jump to full Smart Grid capabilities. In many cases, it’s the smaller improvements and IoT implementations in addition to larger-scale Smart Grid deployments that are making a big difference for utilities around the world. Power grids around the world are getting smarter thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT). While Smart Grid technologies are making the headlines, and poised to grow to more than $118 billion by 2019, according to November 2015 research from analyst firm Transparency Market Research—many utilities just aren’t ready to make the jump to full Smart Grid capabilities. In many cases, it’s the smaller improvements and IoT implementations in addition to larger-scale Smart Grid deployments that are making a big difference for utilities around the world.

The goal of these projects is to improve the health and reliability of the network through faster fault resolution. Keeping a network up and running is critical for utility providers, as network downtime means decreased revenue.

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Transformer Monitoring & Protection

Using Transformer Monitoring Via the IoT to Combat Electricity Theft

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According to the annual Emerging Markets Smart Grid: Outlook 2015 study by the Northeast Group, LLC, the world loses US$89.3 billion annually to electricity theft, with the top 50 emerging market countries losing $58.7 billion annually compared with $30.6bn in the rest of the world, including the largest industrialized economies.

In one of the more widely publicized cases recently, B.C. Hydro in Canada estimates that it was losing about 850 gigawatt hours per year due to electricity theft, that equates to more than $500 million in electricity, according to the company’s website.

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Growth & Innovation

Electric Vehicles Overview

Caucasian woman examining hologram of car

Electric vehicles (EVs) are still considered a new source of transportation/technology, and may even seem somewhat futuristic. In reality the electric vehicle has been around for more than a century. In the 1830’s Robert Anderson invented the first electric carriage, powered by non-rechargeable primary cells. By the early 20th century electric transportation was a commonplace with electric automobiles having the majority of the market, until powerful internal combustion engines fueled by gas and diesel eventually rendered them obsolete.

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