With a rapidly evolving energy landscape, distribution companies need to optimise the performance of their existing assets in order to fulfil their operational targets in a cost-effective manner. With the growing pressure to ensure reliable power supply, coupled with budgetary constraints and growing grid complexity, discoms need to particularly address the issues pertaining to ageing assets and failure of critical assets. To this end, utilities are evolving their asset maintenance approach and are adopting new asset management strategies.
Asset management includes procurement planning, asset mapping, quality testing, condition assessment, refurbishment and replacement of assets, maintenance management, and adoption of technologies for extending asset life.
Types of maintenance practices
Asset management considers the entire lifecycle of an asset from acquisition till retirement, and aims at enhancing its useful life period. Over the decades, discoms have gradually evolved their approach towards maintenance, which assumes further importance with the ageing of equipment. Traditionally, discoms followed the breakdown/corrective maintenance approach. Under breakdown maintenance, an asset is used until a failure occurs and it is replaced only thereafter. This results in unplanned costs for a utility. With time, discoms have transitioned to predictive maintenance, which involves constant monitoring of various parameters of equipment to determine appropriate remedial action to improve system performance and reliability. Thus, through systematic inspection and monitoring at fixed intervals, asset failure is prevented. This approach, however, involves high installation costs even for minor equipment items.
The need of the hour now is to move towards reliability-centred maintenance, wherein a priority list of critical assets is maintained and assets are managed with a broader focus on achieving business results, rather than solely focusing on maintenance of both critical and non-critical assets. Reliability-based maintenance includes data integration, advanced maintenance planning, inventory management of critical spares and use of an appropriate maintenance strategy for different processes and equipment, rather than having one approach for all assets.
Advantages for discoms
Since discoms have a range of critical assets such as lines, feeders and substations, predictive maintenance allows the optimisation of operational processes in order to improve performance. It provides a unified and accurate view of all machines, including their state, status and health. With a centralised repository of assets, discoms can easily locate assets to report defects. Further, with an increasing focus on meeting consumer demand while maintaining financial health, a proactive maintenance approach enables discoms to reduce unexpected failure costs and unscheduled outages, and improve the reliability of power supplied. This can be achieved by shifting the load to reduce asset strain, forecasting the material required based on the health of the assets, and scheduling repairs accordingly.
Moreover, with the integration of renewable energy into the grid, discoms can leverage sensors to remotely control grid-connected assets to better manage the impact of renewable energy assets.
The way forward
While technology has made it easier to monitor assets through sensors and analyse the asset condition using big data, discoms may still end up incurring significant expenses on non-critical processes. Thus, it is essential that the maintenance approach is aligned with the discom’s objective. Further, as asset management relies heavily on data from different applications and departments such as the geographical information system, metering data and data from the operational and maintenance department, it requires effective coordination across the discom, which is a challenging task to achieve. Therefore, proper integration is needed at the backend for a comprehensive asset management programme.
As assets that are scattered across geographical regions become interconnected, there are concerns about security, which necessitate investments in cybersecurity and secure communication networks for data protection. Discoms need to continue to leverage technologies such as data analytics and advanced metering infrastructure to establish broader asset monitoring and control. Lastly, once the information from asset diagnosis is available, the concerned officials need to take appropriate decisions regarding investments in existing and new equipment in order to convert insights into actions.
With inputs from a presentation by Infor at a recent Power Line conference