Experts claim power grid infrastructure needs to be upgraded to accommodate the vast amount of renewable energy expected to be added to the system in coming decades. That could require billions of dollars in investments, millions of hours of planning and permitting work, and years of construction in the field.

Another option that could help is to optimize existing grid components. While increasing the capacity of present power lines may not preclude the need for upgrades down the road, it could reduce the urgency and eliminate some of the congestion on the system in the near term.

One way to maximize line capacity is through closer monitoring of conductors. “LineVision is a grid technology company that is working with leading utilities around the world to solve some of the most critical challenges they’re facing,” Hudson Gilmer, CEO of LineVision, said as a guest on The POWER Podcast. “What we have developed is a platform that uses advanced sensors and analytics to increase the capacity, the resilience, and safety of our electric grid.”

LineVision claims its V3 System for electric utilities is the only system that can monitor all conductors in a circuit with just one system, allowing for complete visibility of the asset instead of just one phase. It combines two patented technologies for “unrivaled accuracy and ease of installation,” according to the company. Each V3 monitor contains a proven electromagnetic field (EMF) sensor for collecting real-time data on the line’s electrical properties, while an optical sensor tracks each conductor’s precise position. The flexible non-contact system can be mounted on power line tower structures (Figure 1), eliminating the need for costly specialized equipment or difficult to obtain outages.

1. LineVision’s overhead line monitoring system provides operators with real-time situational awareness, triggering alerts when measured clearances and horizontal motion exceeds design allowances. Courtesy: LineVision

“What may be surprising to many of your listeners is that these high-voltage lines—these transmission lines and even distribution lines—that really form the backbone of our electric grid are not monitored today. Utilities have invested a lot in technologies that monitor equipment within their substations, but one of the last frontiers where they don’t monitor the condition of their grid is the overhead lines,” Gilmer said.

It may not be obvious to the casual observer, but power lines do move quite a bit. The difference in the sag of a typical transmission line can be several meters. “A hot conductor will sag more than a cool conductor will,” Gilmer explained.

“What we’re doing with these sensors is taking advantage of the fact that even a modest amount of wind cooling the line allows utilities to safely put much more power through them than they would if they weren’t monitored and they had to make essentially worst-case, very-conservative assumptions about the conductor’s temperature,” said Gilmer. “So, this allows us to unlock up to 40% additional capacity on existing lines, and that really addresses one of the most important obstacles to a clean energy transition, and that is, increasing capacity on the grid.”

LineVision has collaborated on projects with several utilities, as well as with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). “We did one recently that was DOE-funded together with Xcel Energy out in Colorado. And we’re really fortunate to have a number of great utility clients and utilities that are really recognized as leaders in the industry. That includes National Grid, includes Dominion, includes Xcel, that includes Duquesne energy in the Pittsburgh area, Sacramento Municipal Utility District,” noted Gilmer. He said LineVision is also working with several other clients that he’s not at liberty to mention at the present time.

The technology is not only in demand in the U.S., but also around the world. On Oct. 6, the company announced that Marubeni Corp. would integrate LineVision’s power line monitoring solutions onto the Japanese electric grid. Today, the company announced that a large power utility in Northern Ireland will install its sensors to monitor 33-kV overhead lines in that region. Gilmer said LineVision has also done work in New Zealand, Austria, Slovenia, Greece, Hungary, and Germany, among others.

“The reality is that this is a need worldwide as utilities try to connect more renewables to their grid,” said Gilmer. “Traditionally, the only way to expand grid capacity was by very capital-intensive, costly projects—that take five to 10-plus years—to build new lines or upgrade existing lines, and what we represent here is really a new model for how to expand grid capacity by deploying advanced sensors and analytics to get more out of the existing wires,” he explained.

To hear the full interview, which includes more about the benefits of increased monitoring, including asset end-of-life projections, anomaly detection, risk evaluations for wildfires and other problems, and more, listen to The POWER Podcast. Click on the SoundCloud player below to listen in your browser now or use the following links to reach the show page on your favorite podcast platform:

For more power podcasts, visit The POWER Podcast archives.

Aaron Larson is POWER’s executive editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine).