Aplines Asset Management Utilities

Health of Power Grids Increases When Existing Data is Properly Harnessed

When asset managers figure out how to harness existing high-quality data, they increase the health of power grids.

Consider for a moment an analogy of your utility’s power grid as a living, breathing human being. Grids and human bodies both have generating plants, transmission lines, substations, transformers and distribution lines. Now, imagine what life would be like if doctors used a single point of data, such as date of birth, to determine how to keep the human body healthy, active and productive. For many utilities, a single point of data is the key factor being used to manage assets. Yet, it is an approach and process that increases costs, heightens down time and is completely avoidable.

For asset managers, good data means good results

Strategic asset management tracks the behavior of key assets over time and their contribution to value creation for the electrical utility. But gathering, structuring and storing data properly without using it properly is time-consuming and expensive. Effort must be put into gaining a perspective on the use of data and the value it will create. That’s why asset data is critical for electrical utilities, but it must be managed with care.

Use data to calculate risk

Many utilities are managing their asset maintenance plan based on one data point: the last time the asset was maintained. As assets age at varying rates and face other significant risk factors, utilities should make decisions based on risk instead of a maintenance schedule in order to improve efficiency.

Data is typically stored in many places, such as GIS maps or IT systems, and is rarely shared throughout the organization. Asset management solutions work with specialists for each of the systems in order to understand where the information is stored and how it can be obtained. And while collecting and structuring data on all assets of a utility may seem like a daunting task, only a few basic data points are needed to calculate risk. The critical information can be limited to four simple data points:

  • Asset type
  • Date of installation
  • Asset location
  • Asset voltage

The type and voltage of the asset provide generic information on the rate at which the asset will age; the date of installation determines the actual age; and the location can show risk factors, such as nearby vegetation, altitude, and corrosive conditions, for assets near the seashore. Additional risk factors can be determined from sources such as drone images and inspection data.

Calculating anticipated risks based on all these factors can help utility asset managers make informed decisions about which assets to maintain, but it requires a staged approach and often the development of a change management plan. Starting small helps this process go smoothly: gather the four basic data points which can greatly improve asset management efficiency, and then add additional data points as they become available.

Take data quality to the next level

The more high-quality data that asset managers can gather, the more efficient their solution will be.

Data quality efforts should prioritize high-value data assets, those that are shared across multiple enterprise systems and those that support both work management and asset management. The information collected from inspections or measurements performed on critical parts of the asset is important to make an  accurate assessment of its health.

On the other hand, the number of connected customers, the supply of electricity from the asset to a hospital or military site, and the redundancy of the electricity supply contain important information for assessing the consequences when an asset fails.

What makes data high-quality?

Accuracy, consistency and specificity contribute to the quality of data, and therefore the quality of the results for asset managers. However, the data that utilities work with often is close to 20% inaccurate or outdated. Inaccurate data could be the result of the following situation: a power pole is known to be on one side of a river, but is actually located on the other, and is closer to vegetation than previously understood. Another situation: asset status is measured inaccurately based on oil analysis or estimated age and, therefore, may require more immediate maintenance than represented by the data.

Determining necessary data points and how often to calculate them has also changed over the years. Climate change has caused more extreme weather and, therefore, affected vegetation and temperature risks. Looking ahead, electrification of vehicles and other industries will affect stress on electric grids and the preparedness needed by utilities. Revisiting data to ensure accuracy and specificity relative to today’s challenges can help mitigate these roadblocks and enable utilities to use their maintenance budgets more effectively.

There are not yet many analytics surrounding the impact of climate change and the extra load it adds to power networks. Therefore, data is needed to design a model that takes these factors into account. Accurate data can help to build a more reliable model and anticipate outages. 5G technology will help to transform utilities by enabling remote sensors to communicate information in real time or close to real time–delivering key insights that will help build new models, anticipate outages and make smarter, more efficient networks.

How do asset managers make their plans?

All the possible risks of asset failure calculated with the asset health (and consequences of failure) can be found in a simple equation; if this is not considered in asset management, the result will bring about one outcome: higher costs for the utility. Often, by correctly making maintenance plans based on asset failure risk, utilities can save 5-15% on maintenance costs with the same network performances, with more targeted actions.

Luckily, asset managers are not alone in this journey. Companies such as Aplines provide a solution that can help utilities automatically calculate opportunities for improved efficiencies and cost savings based on risk of failure. By using just basic data points, utilities can start their data-based asset management journey, adding in additional data points as they become available.

Human life and the vibrancy of every community are highly dependent on the availability and consistency of our grids. It’s time for our industry to take a more strategic approach to ensuring that our power grids are available at the highest possible levels.

Author: Xavier Loin, Asset Management Consultant – published in Utility Analytics Institute, 27th October 2021

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