Digital Transformation for Utilities – Asset Management

As utility infrastructure ages and impacts grid reliability, the interest in methods and tools to manage asset life continues to rise. Utilities are increasingly looking to implement intelligent asset management such as online condition monitoring, predictive asset maintenance and data analytics to gain wisdom about their asset’s health. A tremendous amount of data is needed to track large quantities of equipment and assets as they are procured, installed and maintained through their lifespan until their eventual failure or retirement. As part of our five-part series on digital transformation for utilities, this blog will discuss applications of digital data in asset management.

With technologies such as artificial intelligence, data analytics, remote sensors, automation and drones, there exists a real opportunity for utilities to embrace technology and automate repetitive tasks such as inspection and maintenance activities, as well as outage prediction and restoration:

  • The use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or drones is showing promising early success in aerial line and substation inspections for visual condition assessment using thermal and infrared scans, vegetation management and physical condition inspections. These inspections can scan for broken insulators, missing bolts or a rusted member on a tower.
  • There are some early developments in using drones and artificial intelligence (AI) to record field activity progress and inventory control in order to track goods as they are received and checked-out.
  • 3-D scans of existing facilities make it possible to produce a 3D model and a site layout drawing, making verification of site conditions and constructability review easier without the need for multiple site visits.
  • Using virtual reality (VR) to train new technicians, or to help workers during construction see the completed system, is another area of fast development. It can help accelerate equipment assembly and reduce chances of error.
  • Disturbances on the powerlines due to vegetation or bird contact can be detected in the voltage waveform using data analytics tools. This detection can help utility engineers scan for creeping issues before they occur and result in outage or equipment failure.
  • Utilities also have the ability to read smart meter data and detect issues with home appliances. Each appliance has a certain “load-signature” that allows the utility to harvest the data, whether it is energy efficient or not, to keep track of issues. Utilities can use this data to provide residential customers useful information to help them save on bills as well as give early warnings of developing issues.

Strategic Asset Management and Asset Health Tracking

The approach to asset management and asset health continues to evolve. The ability to gather, store and use analytics to make sense of large amounts of real-time data is giving rise to strategic asset management solutions that are more intelligent than the ones previously available.

Today, utility asset managers can have access to fresh, higher quality data. For instance, with barcode scanners on mobile devices, technicians can record and tag the results of equipment maintenance, test the results and track their values against acceptable norms to flag any abnormalities that may warrant further inspection. If information can be monitored and tracked for all major or critical equipment, we can have a good indication of enterprise-wide health assets. With data at our fingertips, we can start looking for patterns such as assets nearing end of optimal useful life before reliability metrics start being impacted resulting in long-term operational savings.

This area is still in early stage development but holds much promise as technologies continue to evolve. In fact, using data analytics with intelligent algorithms analyzing various operating conditions, equipment failure scenarios and likely impacts, it is possible to flag the zones of system weakness. By applying a dynamic modelling of severe weather scenarios it could be possible to start predicting potential upcoming problems that may crop-up which can ultimately help utilities to better focus their resources and response strategies. In addition, having good asset health data equips utility executives with a dashboard to help them play various asset management scenarios and to better focus their operating expenditures (Opex) investments while reducing costly system failures and customer disruptions.

While these technologies continue to develop and evolve for many years, determining the right digital strategy for your utility, business environment and regulatory framework requires planning and time. While the effort needed to develop and implement a strategy is substantive, the results will be equally as impactful and is worth pursuing to stay relevant. In the upcoming and final blog, we will discuss the overall roadmap and the key milestones a utility can take to plan their transition.