There’s nothing like being left in the dark when you are in the business of delivering electricity. People’s “tolerance for power interruption is very low and [their] expectations for a quick fix are very high,” says Juan Macias, general manager for grid automation at GE Digital Energy.
Knowledge is Power: Data from sensors travel to control rooms and helps utilities pinpoint problems and identify power bottlenecks.
That’s why Macias and his team of engineers developed what he calls the “MRI for the grid.” They’ve built a network of intelligent sensors for customers in Europe that gather power transmission and distribution data such as current and voltage, but also temperature and line sag. The GPS-synchronized sensors, which sit directly on the line and hug it like a hotdog in a bun, beam the data wirelessly to computer servers. Math and software algorithms crunch the input and alert utilities to bottlenecks, line failures, and other looming problems on the grid. “The data enables customers to locate faults in a much quicker and precise way,” Macias says. “The sensors increase the grid resolution, if you will. They improve visibility.”
The technology, called Multilin Intelligent Line Monitoring System, fits into GE’s portfolio of grid monitoring solutions, which make power flow more reliably and efficiently. Utility workers monitor the entire system from computer screens inside a control room. They can also pull it up on their smartphones. So far, GE rolled out the technology in Poland, Ireland, and the UK, but the company is seeing interest from around the world.
Martin Hand, operations and safety engineer at ESB Networks in Ireland, an early Multilin customer, says that “an intelligent line monitoring system gives you a reliable starting point for locating” faults. “This improves supply continuity and enhances public safety by precise dispatching of the fault response crew.”
But Multilin can spot other things besides bottlenecks and downed lines. Macias says that it can also keep an eye on a line’s “load profile,” monitor consumption, and detect “non-technical losses.” That’s what electrical engineers call power theft.