How online monitoring can prevent costly failures.
Christian Hamaker is managing editor of Public Utilities Fortnightly.
The march of technology, the urgent call for greater grid investment, and a painful recent past have caught up with the utilities industry.
The history of widespread blackouts remains fresh. This August will mark the third anniversary of the summer 2003 Northeast Blackout, bringing back memories of fear, chaos, and costly fixes. The California energy crisis paralyzed much of the state, and forced a reconsideration of energy industry deregulation.
The causes, we know in hindsight, were myriad, but the threat of blackouts remains, of course. Most threats are localized, but still would be costly to repair, and would be a severe inconvenience for customers.
Transformer failure late last year at an American Electric Power (AEP) substation in Ohio led to a widespread outage affecting approximately 35,000 of the utility’s customers. Preliminary investigations indicated that a three-phase internal fault triggered the incident.
All customers were back in service within 27 hours, but the event “really was a catastrophic failure” according to AEP Ohio spokesperson Doug Flowers. “Scheduled maintenance had taken place on a regular basis since the 1990s. There was no indication this sort of catastrophic failure would occur. Our transformer failure rate is just 0.5 percent over five years.”