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How Monitoring Systems Help Optimize Electrical Distribution

By Morgana Siggins

July 30, 2020


Electric utility companies have to meet the increasing demand for reliable power distribution while also dealing with possible network outages and clients' complaints. This means that, more than ever, utilities are challenged to do more with less to maintain (and improve) the efficiency of their power generation and distribution networks.

The good news is that many areas of your existing electrical distribution network can be improved with an efficient remote monitoring and control system. In fact, monitoring systems are one of the most cost-effective solutions for improving reliability while enhancing network performance and cutting costs.

As an experienced remote monitoring solutions manufacturer, many electric companies reach out to us for a way to automate and optimize their network. We've helped multiple clients to reach their goals, and we know that having visibility over your electric distribution system is a must.

So, let's take a look at how remote monitoring systems can help optimize your electrical distribution network.

Remote monitoring and control system
An RTU is a remote device that monitors and reports events occurring at a remote site. A master station filters, analyzes and monitores RTU data against functional standards.

How Remote Monitoring Systems Work

A remote monitoring system for a power distribution network usually involves a combination of hardware and software. The information is gathered from your electrical distribution system, usually from sensors located at substations. Depending on the size and complexity of the substation, it will have a large number of sensors collecting data.

In a typical remote monitoring system, a substation is monitored and managed in real-time by a Remote Terminal Unit (RTU). One or more RTUs are located at the substation to collect data from sensors, and transmit all the information gathered to a central master station.

The master station will provide you with an interface to manage all the equipment in your substations as well as processes, environmental level, and anything else you're monitoring. This means that the master is a central location that will integrate all your network, so you won't have to try to work with multiple different interfaces.

On top of merging all your monitoring information in only one web interface, your master station is also responsible for allowing you to remote control your remote devices and processes. Depending on the circumstances, these commands can be automatic and allow you to have full remote control over your sites.

For example, when you get an alarm notification, you can access your master and issue commands to your RTU's control relay in order to have the alarm condition corrected. This can be turning on a generator, turning off devices, etc.

Remote Monitoring Provides Reliability and Saves Money

Many utility companies still monitor their electrical distribution processes manually - tasks that could be easily automated with a remote monitoring system. Having this system in place means that you won't have to delegate the responsibility of collecting information and manual monitoring to your techs.

They won't have to drive to your substations all the time just to keep an eye on what's going on, which will save you money and they will be able to work on more important tasks. This can also improve the safety of your workers since they won't need to go to remote sites during outages. And eliminates the potential for human error when recording data and trying to detect and solve issues.

If your main concern is reliability, modern monitoring systems have built-in redundancy and backup systems that can give you trustworthiness and are faster and more consistent than manual monitoring.

Monitoring Systems Increase Network Uptime

Remote monitoring systems can do more than just gather information though. They can also issue automated control commands that benefit utility companies significantly. When alarms are triggered and sent to you as notifications, you can remotely dispatch control commands that will allow you to correct any issues, make adjustments and corrections. Being able to remotely control your network often prevents outages.

In a situation when an outage does happen due to uncontrollable conditions, such as a storm, your remote monitoring system will help your techs to identify the exact location of the outage and the impacted areas in a timely manner. You won't have to find out that a problem is going on through customer calling to complain.

Furthermore, a monitoring system allows you to restore your network in a timely manner after an outage. Remote controls can help you turn on generators, turn on switches, etc.

This means that, depending on the extent of the issue, you won't even have to send a technician in costly trucks rolls to your remote sites to visually inspect the equipment and make a guess about what is going on.

Much of the data needed to effectively monitor and control a power distribution system is found at substations, but collecting these data can be challenging.

The Importance of Graphical Interfaces For Informed Decisions

As we've talked about, remote monitoring and control systems offer many advantages, such as increased reliability, reduced operational costs, improved worker safety, greater customer satisfaction, etc. When you have real-time visibility over your remote operations you can prevent small issues from becoming big, serious problems. And you can also restore your network in a timely manner after an outage.

However, all of these benefits are only available to you if your monitoring system features an intuitive, graphical interface. Different monitoring systems can give you many different ways to visualize real-time data. But the best way to optimize your power distribution network is to have an intuitive interface displaying dynamic dashboards with maps of your network that can be zoomed in until you reach pictures of your equipment.

This is going to be really important when an alarm happens and you need to know at which site the problem is happening and with which device.

A user-friendly master station interface is critical. This is the main tool you'll have to make informed decisions, so you need to have access to meaningful information.

Remote monitoring master station
When you have alarms displayed visually on layered geographic maps, you usually can drill down from regions, to cities, to sites, to photographs of individual equipment racks. This provides a "war room" view of your alarms right down to the network devices themselves, rapidly accelerating repair operations.

Trend Analysis Allow For Proactive Maintenance of The Network

Remote monitoring and control in real-time allows you to make informed decisions in a timely manner. But, if you want to uncover recurring problems and address issues before they occur, you need to perform trend analysis.

Most monitoring systems store data from past events, which allows you to analyze trends and historical data. Trend analysis facilitates comparisons among various operating situations. For example, excess capacity can be spotted more easily, so power can be rerouted from areas approaching overload.

Analyzing trends and historical data also helps maintain desired power factors, voltage levels, and other distribution system parameters within desired thresholds.

Depending on your monitoring system, you'll have your historical data displayed in different ways, but having it as a graph simplifies analysis. This is because graphs make issues stand out in a visual way, making it easier for you to pinpoint problem areas.

When you use trend analysis features, your remote monitoring system becomes an important tool not only for daily operations but also for proactive maintenance and strategic decisions.

Considerations About Implementing Monitoring Systems

Modern monitoring systems bring many advantages in a cost-effective way, but there are some key points that you need to keep in mind.

  • Replacing manual monitoring devices
    In order to monitor your network, data must be collected from your substations and made available to the monitoring system. This is usually done by connecting all desired sensors into an RTU.
    You might have manual monitoring devices that will not be compatible with your RTU, such as gauges and meters. So, these will have to be replaced with power monitoring sensors that are compatible with the RTU.
  • Different protocols throughout your network
    Communication protocols are the "language" the devices in your monitoring system speak, and they enable the system to gather information in an accurate and reliable way. This is necessary in order to diagnose problems causes and minimize downtime.
    Not all your current devices will support the same protocols that your RTU is capable of understanding. For example, if a power monitoring device has a Modbus port and the RTU does not, some type of hardware protocol translation device will have to be purchased, configured and installed.
    However, modern RTUs and master stations are now able to support many different protocols. These multiprotocol equipment eliminates the need for an additional hardware device and can even avoid the replacement of many of your current devices.
  • Different data transport methods
    In large substations, you have multiple different devices, and most often not all of them will support the same data transport method. You might have devices that support serial connections, others that support dial-up, or LAN.
    Although LAN is the transport of choice for many companies, it's really rare that they are able to actually choose and implement whatever transport they want. Most likely, they have to use whatever method is available.
    Your RTU will have to support the transport method you have in your remote sites. But, what if you have more than one? Avoid buying a different RTU for every different kind of data transport you use. It's important to find an RTU with multiple transport capability.

The Bottom Line

Implementing a remote monitoring system for your electric distribution network will bring you many benefits. Some of them are:

  • You'll achieve enhanced reliability through automation.
  • You or your techs won't need to manually collect information about your network.
  • A remote monitoring system will send you alerts, so you'll be able to know what the problem is and react in a timely manner.
  • Also, monitoring systems make it easier to have smoother operations and increased network uptime.
  • Problems can be addressed fully remotely through control commands issued by your master. Depending on your master, these commands can be sent automatically.
  • Proactive maintenance becomes possible. This is because your monitoring system will give you efficient trending capabilities to pinpoint future issues. It will also provide better routine maintenance of equipment, and you can detect areas that might need improvement.

Most companies find that the advantages of having a remote monitoring system to safeguard their electrical distribution network justify the initial investment. If that's your case as well, reach out to us. We are specialized in custom monitoring systems, so it doesn't matter what you need, you have a solution for you.

Morgana Siggins

Morgana Siggins

Morgana Siggins is a marketing writer, content creator, and documentation specialist at DPS Telecom. She has created over 200 blog articles and videos sharing her years of experience in the remote monitoring industry.