We’ve come a long way since the late 1800s, and the days of wrapping wire around a truss for locating underground cable through electromagnetic induction and using 10 kV rubber-insulated conductors to build and connect our power grids.
There was no convenient method of signal amplification, so it was necessary to wind the aerial around a roof truss. The windings of the aerial can be seen on the front corner of the truss. The photograph was taken in Germany probably about 1910.
Today, we work with much more complex, sophisticated systems, see over 400 kV in ultra-high voltage cables, and use XLPE, fiber optics, and PVC cable alternatives to connect our world, with power lines ranging from overhead to underground, to even subsea.
When it comes to inspections and maintenance, each system has its own strengths and challenges, and some methods have not evolved as much as you might think. But that is changing with advancements in technology, automation, and robotics.
Before robotic inspection advancements, inspections had to be performed manually and were notoriously tedious, expensive, and time-consuming. If there was a fault, drawings or plans first needed to be obtained (though the information was quite often incomplete), and teams would have to manually inspect assets by climbing poles, inspecting vegetation, and walking along sometimes dozens of miles of cable.
Today, we have more tools and technology at our disposal than ever before, making it possible to approach these challenges in safer ways that reduce the human risk virtually to zero. Advancements in submersible robotics (such as Deep Trekkers or Pipe Trekkers) have automated many processes which heretofore involved confined space entry.
For example, visual inspections of flooded underground vaults used to require expensive pumping to empty the vault of water. Now a Deep Trekker equipped with a multibeam imaging sonar can be used to conduct integrity inspections even when visibility is close to zero.
The use of Pipe Trekkers can negate the need for unearthing buried lines through the use of ground penetrating sonde. Each of these technologies can be remotely controlled from the surface and monitored visually on a touchscreen tablet controller or connected to a larger monitor and streamed over the internet if needed.
This allows operators to complete these tasks more safely and efficiently than previously possible and also provides documented data to analyze historical performance and build maintenance schedules that improve operational costs and efficiencies.
Subsea environments can be turbulent and unpredictable, making inspections of underwater power lines especially challenging, as well as dangerous for human divers. Damage can come from man-made hazards, such as dropped or dragging anchors, or fishing and trawling, or from environmental events such as waves, storms and earthquakes causing soil movement, scouring, ice, and even marine organisms.
Inspections are critical to minimize and plan for future maintenance and repair costs, while also meeting basic safety and reliability requirements. Traditionally, divers would be needed for inspections, which is quite costly, dangerous, and time-consuming. Deep Trekkers have been a game changer for underwater inspections, allowing for much faster remote inspections with higher accuracy, while removing much of the danger involved with needing dive teams.
Deep Trekkers can be integrated with modular attachments such as:
For making accurate and precise digital models of real-life objects, people, or spaces.
Capable of in-depth and real-time analysis and image capturing of assets, providing precise spatial information and depth perception.
To create detailed three-dimensional images of underwater environments, structures, and objects. Used for asset inspections, search and recovery, mapping and surveying.
Relies on a single transducer or sensor that physically rotates or tilts to direct its sonar beam in different directions. Their ability to focus on specific areas of interest, controlled by the scanning mechanism, makes them valuable for detailed inspections and search operations.
Allows you to evaluate the thickness of steel on tanks, hulls or other metal surfaces without needing dive intervention or draining the asset.
These tools can map out large areas quickly, pinpoint faults, and collect 3D data sets for global modeling of deformations, or even local analysis of any structural defects.
Each system has its strengths and weaknesses, and choosing which system works best is often dependent on location. Underground buried lines, while historically difficult to inspect and repair, are not subject to extreme weather conditions and environmental damage, unlike overhead wires. Now, with new technologies available, such as Pipe Trekkers, inspections have become much more practical and manageable.
Some benefits of underground buried lines:
- Not subject to damage from extreme weather conditions
- Ideal for long distances across deep water or restricted overhead space in urban areas
- Takes up less right-of-way than overhead lines and has less visual impact on the environment
- Typically more stable and reliable than overhead lines
Credit: Johnrjacobsen, CC BY-SA 3.0
Of course, each method also comes with its own disadvantages, such as the time required and cost of repair of underground cables, and the susceptibility to lightning and catching fire, as well as other environmental hazards of overhead cables.
As technologies improve, more options become available to improve and evolve the reliability and efficiency of the grid. Using Pipe Trekkers, operators can now access confined spaces much easier and leverage technologies such as 3D imaging sonar, ultra high definition cameras, radar and laser scanning, and built-in reporting software to make inspections easier, more efficient, and more cost-effective than previously possible.
Technological growth tends to happen exponentially. In recent years we’ve seen many advancements in renewable energy, automation, remotely operated drones (aerial, underwater, and pipe crawlers), and even the slow transition into a smart grid, allowing for better data collection which improves the planning and distribution of energy, and more precise power usage readings through advanced thermostats and smart meters, empowering the end user with more agency and control over individual usage.
With the explosive growth of ultra-high definition cameras, such as 3rd party imaging systems capable of modular integration with Deep Trekkers and Pipe Trekkers, the ability to capture high-resolution imagery has not only improved efficiency but also the quality and accuracy of inspections.
These new advancements can have a profound impact on the efficiency of our power grids and how we inspect and maintain them. With the use of Deep Trekkers and Pipe Trekkers, we can now inspect vast lengths of power lines in a fraction of the time it once took to manually inspect them. Coupled with the ability to build 3D models and compile data sets for analysis, the future of power grid inspections is rapidly changing for the better.