This week the UK has been hit by an array of extreme weather conditions. From heat waves in the South that have had many turning up their air conditioning, to thunder and lightning illuminating the northern skyline and floods closing down critical infrastructure.
Whilst many of us have been either sweltering, soggy or watching the night’s sky light up, this extreme level of weather conditions is having a profound effect on the country’s power infrastructure. An ageing infrastructure that is almost at capacity if not, at times, over capacity. Quite simply, the growth in demand for electricity is far out stripping our ability to supply it and the transmission infrastructure has not being upgraded to keep pace.
The Distribution Network Operator’s (DNO’s) who are responsible for the substations up and down the country can only deliver what is generated, and sudden big peaks in demand for electricity continue to cause a problem for the industry.
To add to the problem, there is little or no redundancy in the distribution infrastructure and both the risk and incidences of power outages are rising at an alarming rate.
The effect of having any type of outage on a major supply point is extremely serious and there needs to be every effort made to keep the existing infrastructure running.
Early discovery of faults is therefore key to prevent avoidable outages and to fix any potentially hazardous equipment before it has a chance to do any harm or cause downstream disruption.
One prime example is the loss of earthing through copper theft at substations. Without the earthing in place the substation may still operate normally, but as soon as anything goes wrong with the equipment a potentially lethal cocktail of issues become apparent. The risk to life to any power engineer visiting the site because the site is unearthed and the potential danger to any other person breaching the perimeter of the substation whether maliciously or just through curiosity – think of an inquisitive child gaining entry through a hole in the perimeter fence left by the thief – is of grave concern.
This is when technology plays a vital role. Near real-time monitoring of earthing infrastructure at substations combats the operational and safety risks by alerting the DNO’s of any removal or degradation of earthing giving the DNO timely visibility, enabling them to act quickly and safely to rectify the problem before there is any risk to life and also avoiding costly and disruptive power outages.
With autumn and winter fast approaching and the demand for electricity due to rise, assets in the UK infrastructure will remain under stress, and we need to be working together to keep everyone safe and the lights on.
Simon Nash, CEO, Cresatech