Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

Aclara says smart grid tech can mitigate wildfire risk

Steve Rogerson
January 29, 2020



Smart grid line sensors and analytics can help electric utilities mitigate wildfire risks, according to Aclara, a St Louis-based supplier of smart infrastructure to electric, gas and water utilities worldwide.
 
Smart grid sensors and sensor-enabled analytics are tools that can help electric utilities mitigate fire risk by increasing situational awareness on the condition of their distribution networks.
 
A recently published application guide underscores the role sensor technology can play to mitigate fire risk, manage load during an emergency condition, and handle post-event system restoration after a significant disruption.
 
"Many utilities using smart grid sensor technology have uncovered situations that could cause sparks and ignite wildfires," said Kevin Corcoran, director of product management at Aclara. “Vegetation growing into the lines, downed wires, failing transformers and conductor slap are all examples of activity that shows up via sensors and can be corrected before more serious issues arise. In addition, utility planners and response personnel also can deploy and use sensors to aid in planning for public safety power shutoff events."
 
The availability of real-time data and insights from these sensors is increasingly important as the prevalence and severity of wildfires in many parts of the USA continues to escalate. Moreover, according to market-watcher Navigant, nearly 94% of the ignition events reported by one of the USA's largest electric utilities occurred on distribution infrastructure.
 
In many areas, the problem is exacerbated because utilities' distribution and sub-transmission lines often traverse vast stretches of unpopulated or remote areas. Without sensors on those lines or crews in the field, impending equipment failures are rarely visible to electric utilities until failures occur, sparks fly and flames begin.
 
Smart grid sensor technology can help utilities mitigate the risk of wildfires in two ways: by alerting them to line disturbances that may indicate vegetation or obstructions that could cause sparks; or by identifying the location of downed power lines that can cause fires.
 
Easy to deploy, smart grid sensors are also suitable for providing load and voltage data in near real time so utilities can maintain situational awareness around problem areas. This allows for emergency switching and load transfers to take place while avoiding other issues that might arise due to the overloading of other equipment. Sensors also quickly provide visibility to sections of line serving facilities that were set up for first responders as local command centres.
 
The combination of smart grid sensors and analytics, such as Aclara’s grid monitoring platform, that brings together sensors with analytics software, is even more powerful, helping utilities throughout all stages of fire mitigation, from identifying conditions early on to emergency operations, outage restoration and on-going support for the infrastructure repair process.
 
For example, Aclara’s grid monitor continually monitors lines for abnormal events that may cause problems for utilities. It also detects patterns of events and activities that are often precursors to more severe occurrences. Once the sensor system detects these recurring patterns, the utility can dispatch inspectors or line crews to investigate the cause.
 
Aclara, now part of the Hubbell Power Systems' family of brands, is a supplier of smart infrastructure and services to more than 1000 water, gas and electric utilities globally. Its offerings include smart meters and other field devices, metering infrastructure and software and services that enable utilities to predict and respond to conditions, leverage their distribution networks effectively, and engage with their customers.