In the past few years, there has been increased pressure on electric utility companies. New regulations demand improved reliability, meaning fewer outages. Companies that don't comply will face penalties, such as yearly fines or declines of rate increase requests. The pressure these companies feel is, in turn, imposed on manufacturers that provide the fault detection equipment used by utilities. One such manufacturer is Cooper Power Systems. Cooper Power manufactures and distributes various equipment to electric utility companies, including faulted circuit indicators.
Faulted circuit indicators have been used by electrical companies for years to detect the passage of faulty current at particular points on an electrical system. Electrical field workers regularly examine these devices to identify a cable failure (indicated by a blinking light or flagging mechanism). "With electric companies facing the pressure to eliminate outages and restore service speedily, we wanted to help them find a way to use current technology to do so," says Ted Gardner, project manager at Cooper Power Systems.
Enable Remote Monitoring With Cellular Network
Cooper Power decided to combine the benefits of M2M technology for remote monitoring with the longstanding technology of the faulted circuit indicator. To do so, the company needed to find a wireless communication device to integrate with the fault indicator. Cooper Power planned to use a cellular radio in the device that could send data over a cellular network already in place, eliminating the need to create a proprietary or separate wireless infrastructure. Cooper Power researched three vendors before deciding on the GC864 cellular radio module from Telit. Measuring 36.2 x 30 mm, the GC864 was chosen because it was the right form factor to fit into the faulted circuit indicator that Cooper Power produces.
Over the next 10 months, Cooper Power worked to integrate the Telit GC864 module into the faulted circuit indicator, creating its OutageAdvisor solution. The OutageAdvisor solution uses the Telit GC864 cellular radio to combine the benefit of M2M technology with the longstanding faulted circuit indicator. The GC864 faulted circuit indicator is self-powered and uses a rechargeable battery to run the cellular radio. Once the faulted circuit indicator is placed on the cable the same way it always has been, the data from it travels across the cellular network to an IP (Internet Protocol) address that the utility company can access. Cooper Power designed IP conversion software that translates the data coming over the cellular network and through the Internet into data that the utility can integrate into its outage management system. To the outside eye, the only difference in appearance of the OutageAdvisor versus the older faulted circuit indicator is a small antenna. "With the creation and development of a new product, we found the service and support that Telit offered to be important," says Gardner.
Eliminate Manual Tasks To Increase Productivity
Using the OutageAdvisor solution eliminates the need for the electric utility company's field workers to patrol fault detection devices while looking for a flashing light or flag. In turn, the field workers' productivity is increased because they have more time to work on actual repairs. Furthermore, the access to accurate and real-time data enables a quicker response to fault detection. Through proactively tracking the performance of cables and responding more quickly to potential problems, the occurrence of outages can be decreased.
Early this year, Aberdeen Group reported that the number of assets being monitored remotely using M2M technology has increased 41% in the past year. With the amount of time that can be saved with remote monitoring, this direction seems to make sense. "A solution such as OutageAdvisor is an example of how current technology can be used to increase productivity and reduce downtime," says Gardner. Cooper Power plans to continue working with Telit to brainstorm on additional ways to incorporate M2M technology into the utility industry.