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3.1.19 – Security Today – By Fredrik Wallberg

Defending against external threats and asset failure at substations

Artificial intelligence continues to redefine the capabilities of physical security systems and shape customer demands. Today, users expect their security solutions to feature analytics that enable object recognition, target classification, facial detection along with many other advanced functions. In other words, end users across the security industry are searching for systems that provide a return on investment as well as business intelligence beyond security.

Electrical substations are a prime example. Housing mission critical assets in remote locations where activity is mostly static, substation monitoring can be tedious. However, recent advancements in intrusion detection technologies and analytics software are helping substations to leverage thermal imaging cameras to improve both security and operations. While many utility professionals are familiar with how thermal cameras can provide 24-hour perimeter monitoring for threat detection, there is also a key opportunity to deploy thermal for continuous condition monitoring for machinery. By leveraging thermal for security and maintenance, utilities deter intruders, prevent equipment failure, reduce unexpected downtime for customers, and gain substantial savings.

Why Substations Are Deploying Thermal

When it comes to perimeter protection, there is a reason these high end assets deploy premium thermal cameras. First, enterprise-grade thermal cameras deliver consistent performance even in harsh weather environments. Capturing the minute differences between heat signatures of objects, thermal cameras produce clear, sharp imagery in rain, shine or complete darkness. By deploying thermal cameras with long detection ranges, security directors receive an early warning of any approaching threat from several hundred meters away.

New multi-faceted cameras featuring both thermal sensors and optical cameras with built-in analytics are also attractive options for substations and system integrators alike because they simplify deployment. Traditional fence protection and buried cable sensor systems require extensive materials and labor. A standard, eight foot- tall chain link fence for a 200 yard area can be upwards of $50,000. Add that to the costs for trenching, the cable system itself, and the cameras needed to provide visual verification for any alarm events. In the end, you’re looking at a hefty startup price for a system that will likely take several weeks to install. On the other hand, thermal solutions that combine multiple detection technologies under one housing substantially minimize hardware foot print and shorten installation time as they can be easily mounted onto existing structures.

Another key value of high-quality thermal solutions with optical imagers and embedded classification analytics is that they produce accurate alarms and video verification. Upon detection, operators can review both thermal and color video clips to verify alerts before dispatching police. These technologies effectively reduce false alarms, which is a key reason why these solutions are so appealing to utilities.

Protection Beyond the Perimeter

As utilities come to the end of implementing solutions like thermal cameras to satisfy NERC CIP-014 requirements, more companies are shifting their focus beyond security to asset performance. To distribute energy to homes, businesses and other facilities each day, it is vital that substation transformers, lightning arresters, isolators, insulators and other equipment function optimally.

A common failure for substation equipment is the thermal dynamics, or the heating and cooling system. If a transformer overheats and burns, the consequences are severe. The multi-million dollar transformer could be out of commission, and it could be several months before it could even be replaced. In the interim, service would be down, and the interruption in business could cost the utility thousands of dollars.

For these reasons, asset monitoring and asset resiliency are critical for substations. One cutting-edge technology integration substations are beginning to use to address this need is radiometric (or temperature measuring) thermal cameras paired with analysis software. This technology duo allows facility operators to monitor assets, inspect equipment where the temperature reaches a specified threshold, and take preventative measures. Here’s how it works, and the features utilities should look for in radiometric thermal cameras and temperature trending software.

Thermal for Asset Monitoring

To collect accurate temperature information, a superior thermal imager is needed. For utilities looking to deploy a fixed or PTZ radiometric thermal camera, the product should offer non-contact temperature measurement, integration with external control systems, and alarming options via email, website or mobile devices. Premium radiometric thermal cameras will also feature edge analytics for classifying humans or vehicles.

While the radiometric thermal camera captures data, smart analytics software is needed to interpret and deliver this information in a way that is valuable to substation staff. For optimal results, utilities should deploy an open architecture smart analytics software solution that aggregates temperature data to video management systems, OSI PI and SCADA systems.

The function of the smart analytics software is to read, process and analyze the thermal sensor readings. The software can then generates reports on temperature trends on an asset over time as well as temperature trends on all similar assets across multiplies sites. It can also send an alarm to staff if a component’s temperature exceeds a pre-set threshold.

Temperature Trending for Predictive Maintenance

With the ability to collect temperature trending information on assets in real time, facility managers can identify poor-performing components. Small changes in temperature on an asset, where the temperature of its counterparts remains steady, could indicate a problem that warrants an in-person inspection. Proactive preventative maintenance can help avoid in-person visits in often frigid and isolated places.

If further evaluation reveals an asset’s issue cannot be resolved with repairs, utility staff can collectively decide to replace the equipment prior to failure. This kind of predictive maintenance reduces the total cost of ownership for assets, minimizes the number of unscheduled downtime events, and saves the utility hundreds of thousands of dollars in the long run. Many energy companies are adopting security and preventative maintenance solutions and are seeing great results.

Another key advantage of deploying radiometric thermal cameras with analysis software is that it improves efficiency during repair visits. Typically, when a repair is needed on an asset, a thermographer travels to the substation to first perform an inspection. Upon arrival, the individual uses a handheld thermal imager to take temperature measurements to check for load balance before the equipment is taken offline for repair. The thermographer then waits for several hours for repairs to the equipment before making a final assessment to ensure the load is balanced and the equipment is functioning properly. With radiometric thermal cameras on-site, a thermographer can remotely scan the component to ensure the electrical load on the apparatus is balanced across all connections. The real-time temperature reading and analytics before and after the repair verifies whether the problem was truly fixed or if the issue requires further attention.

One of the greatest benefits of a thermal and temperature trending software solution is the peace of mind it provides to utility staff. Instead of detecting a transformer burning out, staff can use this technology to prevent it. By utilities implementing predictive maintenance systems that reduce the risk of an asset malfunctioning, stakeholders rest assured that initiatives are being taken to avoid failure and business losses.

A Complete Solution

Tying it altogether, a typical setup for a substation using thermal for both perimeter security and asset monitoring would include fixed thermal analytic cameras along the perimeter, a PTZ radiometric thermal camera in the center, and radiometric thermal cameras in high-priority asset areas. Upon detection of a human in an unauthorized area from the fixed perimeter analytic cameras, the PTZ camera could track the intruder. Upon validating the alarm, the security operator could immediately dispatch a guard to the area to detain and apprehend the intruder before the individual could inflict any damage.

Meanwhile, the radiometric thermal cameras on-site would continuously survey all equipment in their purview 24-hours a day, seven days a week. If a component’s temperature surpasses the threshold or if temperature trends appear abnormal, operations staff can act to resolve the issue before the component overheats.

By employing thermal technology and analytics, utilities gain a complete solution that prevents intrusion and asset failure and one where the solution pays for itself, both in value and cost savings.