How digital asset monitoring is creating a greener, more efficient grid
Image credit: Megger
Digitalisation promises much, and while some of the claims made of ‘industry 4.0’ are far-fetched, integrated digital technology is truly transforming the performance of many industries. How can digitalisation help to decarbonise the power industry more rapidly?
Electricity networks are becoming more complex. Grids are receiving more renewable energy input than they were designed for, energy that is produced at different times in highly varying amounts, placing great pressure on grid stability.
Input sources have proliferated; increasing wind-farm connections, especially in the UK with its renewed push for more onshore wind, are now joined by multiple ‘grid edge’ suppliers such as community renewable energy projects, PV sites, and residential feed-in sources, and these cause energy backflow. Neither the grid infrastructure nor protection schemes were designed for two-way energy flow in such quantities.
Now consider the rapid growth of electrification: electric vehicles (EVs), rail, device charging and more residential heating with electric heat-source pumps, as we strive to decarbonise. While car sales hit a 30-year low in 2022, electric vehicles accounted for nearly a fifth of sales. Are we really preparing the power network adequately for the growth in home EV charging?
Digital transformation is an essential component for managing this complexity. With more sensors and analytics fitted to cables and other assets, insight-driven asset condition monitoring is helping to build smart grids. This enables predictive maintenance – a key building block of a smart grid – to reduce outages, plus other grid edge technologies, and smart meters to control domestic energy usage.
Part of making operational grids smarter is adopting asset performance management (APM), a basket of technologies that allows operations managers to see and evaluate electrical infrastructure performance. By accurately predicting potential asset failures, APM can reduce the number of unplanned system outages and the required grid repair and maintenance interventions, saving costs, and allowing companies to plan maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) budgets far more accurately.
Sub-optimal or failing assets, including transformers, bushings, switchgear, overhead lines and more, can be quickly identified and proactively managed. Unplanned outages are hugely expensive for operators. Megger’s APM technology, developed by our partner IPS Intelligent Process Solutions, harnesses artificial intelligence technology to make predictions that prevent asset performance issues before they arise.
Tracking the performance of assets throughout their lifecycle using APM helps to ‘green’ the grid. First, because unnecessary maintenance, refurbishment or full replacement can have very high carbon impacts. Good asset maintenance also helps utilities operate more efficiently that minimises energy consumption and unnecessary waste.
By optimising grid performance, saving maintenance and outages is one benefit. APM and condition-based monitoring are also important technologies to reduce power losses.
An electricity grid can be seen as the biggest man-made machine in the world. The more efficiently it runs, the less energy it consumes. Grid assets have voltage losses designed-in – high-voltage transformers are designed to be about 97 per cent efficient with natural energy loses of around 3 per cent. But we know that over time transformers often exceed these losses, for several reasons including weather and the deteriorating condition of the asset, leaking more power than they should.
The proposed new IEEE standard for transformer health, PC57.170 /D1.0, provides up-to-date guidance on transformer maintenance and the use of transformer condition assessment indices, which are fundamental in an APM system. But even with healthy equipment, APM technology can identify faults earlier and specify corrective actions.
Imagine if all transformers in a grid were performing at peak design capacity with minimal or close-to-zero non-designed losses, then multiply this by all the optimised power grids globally; the power savings would translate as hundreds of thousands of kilowatt-hours of energy saved, equivalent to huge carbon-emission savings.
Better energy efficiency produces financial efficiency. When buying new equipment, companies can forget to consider every aspect of production and shipping, both the commercial and carbon costs, which is where effective investment planning comes into play. APM and asset investment planning tools help companies see the financial impact of all investments, plan budgets and evaluate the impact between repairing, upgrading, or buying new equipment.
The global APM market is becoming more mature, in terms of architectural flexibility, cloud and SaaS (software as a service) delivery, leading to significant growth. Analysts’ estimates vary, but Grand View Research predicts compound annual growth of 11.8 per cent between 2022 and 2030.
As a partner in the grid’s transition to a more complex, but reliable, digitised energy system, at Megger we believe the switch to renewable energy must accelerate if the power sector is to decarbonise to net zero by 2050. APM and associated technologies are important tools to effect this change.
Jim Fairbairn is CEO of Megger.
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