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Transmission and Distribution Companies Should Invest in Smart Maintenance Technology Solutions

While the transmission segment includes step up transformers, power lines, towers, and insulators, the distribution segment assets include, step down transformers, load tap changers, switchgear, and circuit breakers.  Typically, these are geographically dispersed and at times in remote locations and with little or no automation.  They also present a picture of decades-old and new equipment working side by side.  With the power grids expanding, the challenges of managing these assets will only increase.  Closer, real-time monitoring of grid assets will allow transmission and distribution companies to improve operational efficiency, reduce maintenance costs, and improve asset performance.

The SMT for power transmission and distribution (T&D) is still in its formative stages with both suppliers and power grid operators beginning to appreciate the benefits of asset management technology in improving grid reliability by adopting improved maintenance strategies.  While in countries in NA, Europe, and Japan, the efforts to modernize the existing infrastructure and transform operational management are the key drivers for the emergence of SMT solutions, the massive T&D investments planned in India call for their early adoption in this country.  The need to ensure grid reliability and contain costs provides the impetus for the growth of SMT solutions.

SMT solutions provide real-time predictive asset health information of these assets by using information embedded in smart power equipment, control systems, and various sensors, with an intelligent analytical engine to predict potential asset problems.  SMT systems, with appropriate functions, also predict the probability of catastrophic failure and deactivate equipment to protect equipment, personnel, and consequential damage in case of abnormal conditions. 

These solutions consist of a combination of hardware, software, and services.  Principal hardware types include sensors and analyzers, such as temperature sensors and dissolved gas analyzers, which can detect minute changes in transformer oil and mobile devices and handheld computers, which enable field personnel to collect asset data and give them access to service records and other decision support tools.  The communication and network hardware enable bi-directional communication between remote assets, control systems, and field personnel.

SMT software collects data and information from assets, people, and the process, and uses rules, algorithms, and trends to diagnose asset problems.  Software types offered include asset locating and tracking modules, data logging and archiving modules.  They enable field personnel to locate assets quickly that need inspection or servicing.  While the related analytics allow users to predict asset condition and perform root cause analysis for faults, the decision support tools give field personnel real-time access to asset data and best practices, and help them optimize their work.

Services offered by asset management providers include contract maintenance services, consulting, application hosting and online asset monitoring by offsite experts, and integrating asset management data with control systems to give operations personnel a real-time view of the health of grid assets.

Smart Maintenance Technology solutions for transmission and distribution systems predict potential asset failures and provide inputs to workforce to take remedial action to prevent the failure of critical assets.  These solutions are complementary to Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) solutions, which includes scheduling, inventory control, documentation, and others.  SMT and EAM solutions and other reliability initiatives, such as reliability centered maintenance (RCM), condition based maintenance (CBM), and others may be appropriate solutions to complement T&D asset management systems in the utility’s overall asset management strategy.

While the major thrust for the growth of SMT solutions comes from transmission and distribution companies in NA, Europe, and Japan, the demand for these solutions will not lag behind in India.  The electric power industry in India is rapidly expanding, and some of the contributory factors, such as the need to improve the reliability of electric power supply, the expanding transmission and distribution networks, and cost pressures that are spurring the demand for SMT solutions in the developed countries are also acting in the country.

ARC, in its recently released report on “Smart Maintenance Technology Solutions for Power T&D,” has identified Asia as having the fastest growing market for SMT solutions.  India, with its massive capital spending in building up its electric power industry, should be in the forefront in using such emerging technology solutions.  The country has benefited in the past whenever it opted for emerging technologies - the use of mobile communication technology is a good example - and the electric power trends provide opportunities to leapfrog.

Major SMT supplier companies, such as ABB, AREVA, Schneider, Siemens, and others, should create awareness among T&D companies by focusing on its business value proposition of SMT solutions.  They should highlight the economic benefits of asset management solutions through case study presentations and reports.

ARC’s upcoming forum “Driving Innovation, Sustainability, and Performance for Electric Power and Water Industries” in Hyderabad from July 14-15, 2010 (http://www.arcweb.com/Events/ARC-India-Hyderabad-Forum-2010/Pages/Process-Batch.aspx) has separate tracks and sessions to discuss, deliberate, and seek answers to issues relating to improving the operations of T&D companies.  Those interested in attending may write to prakasha@arcweb.com/varshag@arcweb.com.  The forum also provides speaking opportunities.  If you would like to nominate a speaker or be a speaker at one of our forums, please write to raja@arcweb.com or give a call to Rajabahadur V Arcot +98 452 09442.

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