Cooperative News

Invisible clues: Using infrared technology to prevent outages, save money

Infrared cameras catch substation hot spots

To the naked eye, it’s an ordinary substation transformer. To the infrared camera, it looks like trouble.

“Because we caught this using infrared technology, we were able to go in and change out the equipment in a controlled environment,” PEC Substation Maintenance Manager Michael Brinkman said. “That kept the lights on for a number of our members.”

Electrical equipment through a normal camera and an infrared one.
These faulty surge arresters, which are responsible for protecting our equipment from power surges caused by lightning strikes, were identified and fixed with the help of infrared technology.

Infrared cameras are among the arsenal of high-tech tools used in our rigorous substation maintenance program. The cameras form images using infrared radiation, allowing our operators to detect hot spots in our equipment.

“Hot spots — or cold spots where you’re expecting to see heat — are a sign that something is wrong,” Brinkman said. “It could be a loose connection, dirt in the connection, a faulty part. Whatever it may be, something’s not operating right, and that spells trouble down the line.”

We scan every device in each of our 70 substations each year using infrared cameras. In 2017 alone, the technology identified 28 hot spots in our equipment, problems invisible to human eyes.

“By finding hot spots, we can prevent outages,” Brinkman said. “And not only that, by making the repair, we’re preventing failure of very expensive pieces of equipment. It’s a huge savings and a huge benefit to our members.”

Electrical equipment through a normal camera and an infrared one.
Where there’s heat, there’s trouble. By looking for bright white, yellow and orange hot spots in thermal imaging, our staff can identify and repair issues before they lead to equipment failure.

Also, Brinkman said, by allowing our substation maintenance team to identify faulty equipment, the technology has helped us select reliable vendors. When we recognize that a particular brand or supplier’s equipment fails frequently, we choose not to purchase from them in the future, allowing us to make more reliable investments of our members’ dollars.

“We have a very vigorous maintenance program,” Brinkman said. “There are a lot of things you can’t control outside the substation with the elements and the environment, like downed trees on lines or auto accidents with poles. But inside the substation, it’s all up to us to perform the proper maintenance and make repairs immediately.”