The POWER Interview: Remote Monitoring Key For Asset Management

Developments in communication technology, including software applications and new control hardware, are providing utilities the ability to monitor assets, analyze alarms, and control their power generation facilities remotely. Companies are using new technology to address power plant operations, support maintenance tasks, and ensure proper compliance reporting and incident response.

Remote monitoring was part of POWER’s Special Report in February, with experts from several companies weighing in about the latest technology available for the electric power sector. Tony McGrail, the Solutions Director for Asset Management and Monitoring Technology at Doble Engineering, recently provided POWER with additional information and insight into the importance of remote monitoring and some of the technology available to support the power generation sector.

POWER: What should utilities/power generators be looking to accomplish through remote monitoring? What is the primary reason or reasons for establishing a remote monitoring strategy (efficiencies, cost savings, etc.)?

McGrail: Remote monitoring can provide a variety of benefits, but one of the primary objectives for utilities and power plants is to gain continuous, real-time assessment of critical asset health to extend the asset’s lifespan and reduce the need for premature replacement. Unlike offline monitoring, remote monitoring can gather data while the equipment stays in service–not just during scheduled maintenance and downtime. This empowers utility end users to make more informed, strategic, and cost-effective decisions that optimize maintenance and prevent sudden failures–a major financial benefit and incentive.

Depending on the assets, end users can tap a variety of sensors. For example, a bushing tap adapter should be used on a transformer bushing to measure leakage current, transducers and antennas are more suited for high-frequency applications like partial discharge, and oil analysis can provide valuable insight for power transformers.

Tony McGrail

Remote monitoring can also help shift asset maintenance strategies from intermittent manual intervention to more continuous monitoring of asset degradation and strategically planned maintenance. This approach also reduces the resources—time, energy, and funds—needed for hands-on testing, which can inadvertently lead to further damage. In short, remote monitoring promotes efficient and targeted maintenance, enabling users to maintain what is required, rather than solely following manufacturer guidelines established decades ago. Whether you’re planning for short term conditions and cost-savings or long-term viability and efficiencies, you can determine the right types of sensors, monitors, data, and plans needed to support that goal.

POWER: What products/services does your company provide for remote monitoring of power generation assets (can include thermal and renewable)?

McGrail: Doble offers comprehensive condition monitoring and remote monitoring solutions from modules for data asset collection to powerful software for analysis and visualization. Our Calisto Condition Monitoring Platform line offers a complete line of on-line and remote monitors which can analyze and monitor changes across key measurements for transformers, circuit breakers, high-voltage gas-insulated switchgears, high-voltage and medium-voltage cables, rotating machines, substation assets, and more, either as individual sensors or as part of an integrated platform. We also provide scalable and holistic condition monitoring software for comprehensive analysis such as our doblePRIME™ Transformer Condition Monitoring System which provides a scalable, real-time monitoring for transformers.

We also offer personalized condition assessment and laboratory services for unbiased diagnosis and assessment of critical assets as well as consulting. Our services cover installations, integrations, training, and ongoing support, while also addressing risk mitigation and business continuity planning to ensure efficient asset management and overall reliability for utility and power plant facilities.

POWER: Are there situations that would not be suitable for remote monitoring? Are there situations that absolutely call for remote monitoring?

McGrail: Remote monitoring can provide many strategic financial and operational benefits, but successful remote monitoring still requires a solid foundation of communication, technical proficiency, thorough planning, and swift action. Properly installing remote monitoring systems involves the challenge of not just collecting and recording data, but also ensuring an established pathway and transmitting it to an appropriate location that notifies the right individuals who can take necessary action. Though remote monitoring devices can provide real-time data, the responsibility still lies with the engineer or utility worker to understand, interpret, and decide when to act on those signals.

Remote monitoring is most suitable for situations requiring continuous oversight of critical assets such as power transformers, circuit breakers, bushing tap adaptors, partial discharge, and more as it facilitates real-time data collection, proactive decision-making, and early issue detection to prevent potentially catastrophic failures. Remote monitoring is also effective when it comes to managing large fleets of similar units.  With more powerful computing and robust condition monitoring that link testing data and analytics, utility, and power organizations can gain a comprehensive view for analysis and maintenance planning. It is also useful for assets located in hard-to-reach or challenging environments, eliminating the need for frequent, and time-consuming physical inspections.

Situations less suited for remote monitoring may include low-criticality assets that have a smaller impact on operations. For simple systems with a track record of reliable performance, the investment in remote monitoring may not be justified, as regular maintenance should be sufficient. Assets with short lifespans and quick turnover may not benefit from remote monitoring, considering the cost-effectiveness of the investment. Budget constraints can also limit remote monitoring implementations, considering the initial setup and ongoing maintenance costs. While remote monitoring systems provide steep advantages for critical assets and fleets, situations involving low-risk assets, simplicity, or budget constraints may not warrant the investment in remote monitoring systems.

POWER: Are there cybersecurity concerns associated with remote monitoring?

McGrail: The integration of advanced communication technologies like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and cloud applications, naturally increases organizations’ susceptibility to cyber threats and their need to bolster cybersecurity defenses.

Condition monitoring equipment, by design, should be put through penetration testing to ensure that the system is resistant to cybercriminal attacks. However, authentication protocols–including even more basic measures like a strong username and password–and automated logouts of the interface after a certain time can help ensure the security of a remote monitoring system. Physical safeguards or physically locking the equipment can also prevent unauthorized personnel from accessing. Additionally, cybersecurity practices should, at a minimum, align with IEEE and IEC standards to establish solid frameworks for defining parameter limits and ensuring secure communications.

While some organizations are more well-versed in cybersecurity than others, it’s important that each part of a remote monitoring system can operate completely within each firewall. Once remote monitoring systems are installed, they do not have the capability to independently manage cybersecurity systems. Beyond these measures, minimizing wireless communications and maintaining a list of authorized devices are additional protective measures against unauthorized access are other important measures to take. Vigilance, regular audits, and immediate action plans involving all stakeholders are crucial in mitigating cybersecurity risks.

Darrell Proctor is a senior associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).

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