Thermal imaging to keep the lights on for residents in Australia

Supplier: FLIR Systems Australia
07 September, 2018

While residents are at home on a cold winter night with their heat turned up, TV on, food cooking, and loads of laundry running, our Power Companies are out and about checking power lines and equipment.

Reverse cycle aircon systems, electrical heaters and other heating appliances put a high demand on the Electricity providers in winter and power companies don’t catch problems early, thousands of customers could lose power, just like the 50,000 people who recently lost their energy supply in Melbourne due to distribution line issues and faults caused by excessive heat and humidity conditions.

Prevent damage before it happens

When the electrical load is highest and the likelihood of a breakdown is greatest, the power engineers spend many hours inspecting power line connections with a FLIR thermal imaging camera. They start with substations and then do the 3-phase distribution lines looking for hot spots which are just bad connections, but if not found the connection will eventually fail. The FLIR T series thermal cameras help power companies identify hot spots on the electrical system from the safety of the ground using telephoto lenses like on a normal digital camera and so they can prevent failures before they occur.

In some states the FLIR cameras have been mounted onto vehicles roofs so they can drive down the road and scan with the thermal camera to spot check the situation of connections. If they spot an issue they can stop and get out and carry out a full analysis with a hand held camera. FLIR cameras have been used by the power companies since 1958 and Australia has hundreds of T series currently in use today with various power providers.

Before thermal imaging there was no quick way to do non-contact examinations on power line connections and when equipment failed they would just react and go out and fixed it. With a FLIR thermal cameras power utilities can save valuable time looking for issues without getting out of the vehicle and can be proactive catching problems before they cause an outage.

The infrared inspection programs help make their electrical system safe, reliable, and saves the utility company thousands of dollars by conducting maintenance during regular business hours. The alternative is a major outage – one that could occur at night or on a weekend – and result in more expensive overtime work hours for the crews.

FLIR thermal cameras have helped find problems on cutouts, substation getaway structures, and poor or failed connections. The technology has even been beneficial for checking construction quality.

“My infrared work is like hunting; we scan every line and every piece of equipment looking for potential problems with our system,” said one power worker. “It is great satisfaction when imminent equipment failure is found and repaired before it ever causes an outage.”

Prioritise and schedule repairs 

Utility crews also monitor their loads with SCADA software to see what is under the most amount of stress, then they start their survey where the load is highest. Sixty percent of the time they find lines or equipment that need to be repaired. Having access to a thermal camera helps them to prioritize and schedule repairs. The ability to see a hotspot and measure the temperature of it helps them asses the severity of the problem, allows the engineers to make the determination that, “this isn’t going to fail right away, but maybe in a few weeks or months” giving them time to plan the repair and get everyone and everything together for a planned shutdown and repair.

The benefits of catching hot spots early include extending the life of otherwise well-functioning equipment; prevention of equipment failures that could lead to widespread outages minimizing system disruption and reduction of costs through maintenance as opposed to replacement of damaged equipment.

“Thermal imaging really allows us to see what the naked eye can’t see,” said one worker. “It allows us to fix these problems before a failure occurs, and it has been a huge benefit to the utility.”