Infrared inspections help city detect problems in electrical grid

An electrical connection that looks normal to the naked eye can show up as a hot spot to an infrared camera, indicating a loose connection and power loss on Penticton’s electrical grid.  - Submitted
An electrical connection that looks normal to the naked eye can show up as a hot spot to an infrared camera, indicating a loose connection and power loss on Penticton’s electrical grid.
— image credit: Submitted

Penticton’s electric utility has just finished checking out the grid.

The electrical grid, that is, using infrared scanners to check for loose connections, failing transformers and other potential faults in the overhead electrical lines, customer service connections and some of the underground equipment.

Through a tendering process in January, Heatseeker Infrared Inspections was hired to carry out the work, which uses a combination of regular photographs and infrared photographs to isolate hot spots in the system that indicated a problem.

According to Martin Ward from the electric utility, regularly scanning the system this way is now a common practice. Penticton had gone through the procedure some time ago, and Ward said it was just good practice to do it again.

Over the past two weeks, Heatseeker inspected virtually the entire overhead circuit system in the city. As they scan it, if there is nothing there, they don’t  worry about it, but if a hot spot shows up, the electric utility is notified and a crew sent out to correct the problem.

In one case, the thermographic image shows a wire glowing brightly, indicating it was in the 80 C range, indicating a bad service connection.

“Wind, vibration, all sorts of things can cause those connections to loosen up just a little bit. Once it does that, it creates resistance, and resistance with electricity creates heat,” said Ward. “There is power loss as a consequence.”

The process is a cost effective, non-destructive test method for inspecting the lines and equipment. Ward said winter is the best time to complete the work as the cold provides the greatest temperature contrast in the photographs.

City work crews, Ward explained, couldn’t possibly check each connection manually.

“Typically, you would deal with them on failure, where this is proactive, reducing outages,” he said, noting that it also eliminates the costs associated with fixing those outages. “Because to go up and fix this is pretty quick, whereas an outage is a lot different.”

Ward also said going to an outside contractor to do the inspection turned out to be very cost effective, especially considering the electric utility is currently short on staff to handle the regular workload.

“The guys who do this really have a good sense of what they are doing and they are able to do a lot quicker then we can,” he said.

Ward went on to note that this kind of non-destructive testing is common, though different utilities use other methods, like acoustic testing for leaks in a water system.

“It’s the kind of background maintenance work that is done on all utilities, the sewer, the water and the electric. It really depends on the nature of the system the best way to do it,” said Ward.


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