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Planning for the Unexpected: Protecting Critical Power Grid Infrastructure

 

According to the Edison Electric Institute, 70 percent of power outages in the United States are caused by extreme weather. However, external factors such as hurricanes and snow storms aren’t the only elements that can damage the system. Internal issues such as asset failure within the grid can also cause unplanned downtime. No matter where the problem originates, it is critical that infrastructure maintenance teams have a plan in place and are prepared to handle these types of outages ahead of time.

For example, let’s consider the recent transformer explosion that caused New York’s LaGuardia Airport to temporarily shut down, or the electrical fire that caused an outage at Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson airport around this time last year. These situations are both classic examples of complex power networks that proved to be less than indestructible. While no network can stand up to all threats and external factors at all times, there are ways to lessen the impact when an issue arises and the power goes out. For starters, employing reliable equipment and taking proactive measures to monitor the health of critical assets can help protect the energy infrastructure from unseen factors leading to potential disruptions in the power supply.

Is Your Infrastructure Ready?

When It comes to effective risk management, every second counts. Outages that stem from damaged critical equipment can be very costly – the Department of Defense reported 127 outages of eight hours or longer in 2015 alone, at a cost of $179,087 per day. According to Microgrid Knowledge, these sustained power outages can cost the U.S. Economy an astonishing $26 billion annually, with some of the most extreme costing companies upwards of $17,000 per minute.

Workers can take measures to prevent these outages by identifying and detecting early indicators of wear and malfunction and failure and ultimately minimize risk and impact in the event of an outage. Taking a proactive approach to managing the health of important assets will help technicians and equipment managers understand how to avoid system failures, even the ones they don’t see coming.

It’s worth noting that planned outages – where the system is de-energized, so repairs can be done that lower the risk of unexpected failure – are an economical defense mechanism. Scheduled off-line maintenance is targeted toward specific problem areas and conducted over a shorter period, limiting costs and inconveniences. It also gives power managers a better idea of what to look for, and how to troubleshoot, when issues do occur.

The best way to protect against the unexpected is to have contingency plans in place. The following protection and mitigation strategies act as building blocks, each serving a unique purpose to contribute to the overall health of critical infrastructure.

 

  • Regularly monitor and conduct asset tests. Performing condition-based tests is essential for critical assets. There are numerous in-service testing options available to maximize on- and off-line testing time.
  • Analyze test readings for asset conditions. Asset managers can leverage these test results to paint a picture of the internal and external conditions of equipment and understand what areas of an asset do and do not require immediate attention.
  • Use test insights to diagnose a problem. Using data and readings collected from the tests, teams can interpret the readings on an asset’s condition to determine if a larger system failure is likely, and what, if any, proactive maintenance measures are needed to improve grid health.

When the strategies above are applied to critical assets, they can optimize asset health and curb the impacts of unplanned outages across power and energy infrastructures, both large and small. This protects utilities from unexpected expenses, the allocation of valuable time and resources and reduces the risk to critical assets as well as the larger community dependent on a continuous power supply.

 

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Doble Engineering Company

Doble Engineering Company