Infrared Technology ‘Heats Up’ Utility Maintenance Practices
Who knew 1800s technology originating in England would benefit electric cooperative members across southwest Kansas in 2019. Infrared technology is nothing new, but its impact on electric system reliability is surprising and impressive. Victory Electric uses the FLIR T640 infrared camera to help find bad connections and other heat related problems on the electric grid system.
The camera, used and operated by Victory Electric’s substation technicians, visually shows technicians where heat is located within objects and how that heat is distributed. It does this by detecting the energy of heat and converting the information into an electronic signal, which produces an image. In the case of a substation, the images show technicians where heat is located and moving throughout equipment like transformers. The result is finding transformers that need oil, bad connections and other heat related problems within the substation before they cause equipment damage, and ultimately, power outages.
“The main purpose of our camera is preventative maintenance,” said Jarod Scheve, manager of the substation technology. “It was definitely an expensive investment, but the return on finding issues that eliminated/shortened outage times and lowered overtime costs has made the investment worth it.”
Technicians, primarily certified thermographer Jerry Dick, use the infrared camera on a daily basis, as weather permits.
“We scan the entire sub and if a connection point in the substation is going to fail, it will become hotter before it fails,” Scheve said. “The camera helps us identify those hot spots and schedule maintenance around the findings so before they fail and cause a large outage.”
Although the camera is used predominately during monthly substation inspections, it is also designed to help lineman troubleshoot and identify different issues on the line.
Sir William Herschel, royal astronomer to King George III of England, discovered infrared technology in the 1800s. Fast forward to 1978, FLIR was founded as an infrared imaging systems provider for energy providers such as Victory Electric. Thermal imaging tools are used for many different purposes in industries such as security, transportation, government organizations, and more.
Within the graphic, the top left photo shows a normal photo of electrical equipment. The bottom left shows the infrared version of the same photo. When comparing the temperature of the white “hot spot” connection with other connections nearby, the greater the temperature difference the quicker we act to resolve the issue.