Insulation Systems and the Smart Grid

By James Pilgrim

The Smart Grid Newsletter this month has been produced by members of the IEEE DEIS Technical Committee on the Smart Grid, with an aim to highlight a range of ways in which Smart Grid is able to help drive innovation and answer long term questions.

Insulation Systems and the Smart Grid

At first glance, Dielectrics and Electrical Insulation may seem rather distant from the Smart Grid. In reality, Smart Grid could offer a wealth of information about the performance of real insulation systems out “in the wild”, rather than in the controlled laboratory conditions used for many experiments. Insulation system failures can cost serious economic loss Although repair cost of a cable or transformer may not appear very large as itself, failure may impose constraints on the system, or lead to curtailment of output from a generator. System failure costs may dwarf the cost of the asset repair itself. The DEIS Technical Committee on Smart Grid is actively reviewing how creative use of Smart Grid technology can help us to overcome the challenges that we face in the field of dielectrics and electrical insulation.

What questions does the dielectric community need to answer?

Power grid related research challenges facing the dielectrics community broadly fall into two categories: 1) Design of enhanced dielectric materials for new grid assets, and 2) Efficient operation of those assets already existing on the network. Examples of the questions that DEIS community is actively striving to answer are:

Improving Asset Design:

  • Considering future grid scenarios, what conditions will new insulation systems need to endure, and what additional capabilities do they need to have?
  • Are our standards representative of what is happening in the real world on the network? Do we need to make changes to ensure that equipment remains fit for changing purposes?
  • How can we use field data to optimise the design of new assets to make them as cost effective as possible?
  • What new capabilities are required from the insulation systems of future equipment?

Improving Asset Management:

  • How are our assets being affected by changing network utilisation and environmental conditions, and do we need to do something differently as a result?
  • How can we get the most functionality out of existing assets, even if new requirements are not really what they were designed to do?
  • How much longer will assets last? Can we reliably predict their remaining life from online measurements?
  • Can we improve grid performance by identifying insulation related faults before they happen, particularly for assets such as long cables where conventional sensing is not viable?
  • How can we minimise operational expenditure (maintenance, utilisation of forced cooling etc) while maximising asset availability?
  • How can we deploy an optimal set of sensors to provide sufficient visibility of the condition of assets in real or near real-time basis, leading to the ability of the grid to evaluate its own condition or ‘health’?
  • How can we make use of heterogeneous data, which are spatio-temporal dispersed over the grid to facilitate asset management?

Harnessed correctly, the world of Smart Grid can help us to answer these questions.

What useful information can the Smart Grid provide?

The value proposition of Smart Grid for the dielectrics and electrical insulation community is very different to that perceived by other groups, such as network control engineers or protection specialists. From the DEIS perspective, the development of the Smart Grid can deliver a wealth of valuable data that we can use to answer the fundamental questions posed above. Figure 1 identifies a selection of just some of the valuable parameters for the dielectrics community, which could be enabled by Smart Grid technologies.

Examples of information which could be made available by Smart Grid tools

Examples of information which could be made available by Smart Grid tools

What can DEIS deliver back to Smart Grid?

Although the Smart Grid has many benefits for routine system operation, in the longer term there is a clear opportunity for DEIS activity to help grow the benefits to network operators. Our vision of our deliverables is:

  • Better designed equipment to cope with new stresses seen in service.
  • The ability to increase utilisation of insulated equipment, but without increasing the rate of failure.
  • Faster detection of fault locations leading to reduced repair times.
  • An acceleration of the move to prognostic technologies with improved maintenance regimes and less outages.
  • Realistic assessments of remaining life in an environment where utilisation patterns change more rapidly therefore conventional asset management assumptions may be invalid.

Bringing all of these capabilities together, embracing the opportunities of the Smart Grid will lead to improved grid performance with a lowest possible cost to the consumer.


James Pilgrim

Dr. James Pilgrim (M’09, SM’17) received the Bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the School of Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton in 2007. He joined the staff of the University of Southampton in 2007 as a Research Assistant, gaining his PhD in 2011. He joined the academic staff of the University in 2012. His research interests include all high voltage equipment, particularly high voltage cables and associated insulation systems. He is currently the Chair of the DEIS Technical Committee on Smart Grid. He is actively involved in the development of new standards and best practice through acting as the UK member of IEC TC 20 WG19 (Current Rating and Short Circuit Limits of Cables) and Cigre Working Groups B1.56 “Current rating verification” and B1.64 “Evaluation of losses in armoured three core power cables”.

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