The future of our energy

4th January 2017
Posted By : Anna Flockett
The future of our energy

Back in the 1920s to keep five light bulbs running for an entire day cost the same as a week’s wages for the average Brit, no wonder only six percent of British homes had access to electricity.

However a lot has changed since then; the 3rd industrial revolution and the introduction of labour-reducing home electronics completely revolutionised the way we live our lives. This increasing demand for electricity has meant that we have grown more dependent on affordable power. As energy consumption rises and the complexity of the grid increases, new technologies are becoming crucial for managing the system more efficiently.

Adrian Kimberley, Regional Manager at COPA-DATA UK, discusses two milestones on the road to the smart grid – condition monitoring and predictive maintenance.

Condition monitoring
Every asset in an electrical grid – power stations, transmission sources and substations - has a certain working life; as it reaches the end of its life, the asset needs to be replaced or upgraded. Historically, equipment would have to fail before it was repaired or replaced. Nowadays, advanced communication technology allows energy companies to monitor certain aspects of these assets in real time. This is where condition monitoring technology comes in.

HMI/SCADA software is the diagnosis gateway for energy suppliers to use condition monitoring data to maximise network availability, increase performance and handle loading issues. In turn, this could reduce unscheduled outages. In a substation, for example, condition monitoring can be used for effective failure projection and prevention. In zenon, for example, users can easily to set up parameters for the variables they are monitoring. Whenever these variables exceed the set limits, the user can set up alarms or instructions to act rapidly on the situation.

Field devices, whatever their functionality, need to be able to communicate to HMI/SCADA software. Condition monitoring requires these devices to be connected to a reliable communication network standard, such as IEC61850. The field data should be compatible with as many communication protocols as possible, with additional encryption and safety standards. This allows HMI/SCADA software to gather data from devices of different original equipment manufacturers or generations.

Predictive maintenance
By taking condition monitoring one step further, energy companies can use the gathered data for predictive analytics and therefore capitalise on these innovations. By analysing historical field data, companies can identify patterns, anomalies and use algorithms to understand the condition of their assets and, more importantly, anticipate when a breakdown might occur. These anomalies dictate the next action for the engineering team.

The ability to detect equipment faults is extremely valuable because it diminishes failures, which can be hugely damaging to the reputation, finances and infrastructure of energy companies.

There are numerous other benefits for the smart grid that come from condition monitoring and predictive analytics, including increased reliability and flexibility as well as improved energy efficiency and sustainability. These benefits make it easier to integrate new energy sources and address the increased demand for power.

The hardware and software technologies that will make up the foundation of tomorrow’s smart grid already exist, implemented in isolated projects. The large-scale implementation of these technologies might be a complex and costly project, but the shift they enable will completely revolutionise energy generation and distribution. Perhaps even more so than the Electricity (Supply) Act of 1926 that made affordable electricity accessible to the wider population.  

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