One less exciting but very necessary part of our industry is asset management. This means making sure the assets we have out on our grid are in decent condition and not about to break down. What we do not want is a series of outages just because some of our equipment is getting old or is failing.
Asset management is part science and part art. The science parts are the inspections and any maintenance. We visually inspect all our assets on the grid over a six-year period. This includes all the poles, wiring, conductors and transformers. We also do an infra-red inspection of the full grid over a three-year period. The infra-red inspection looks for equipment or connections that are overly hot. This is an indication that there is a deeper problem that needs correcting. These are usually problems that would not be obvious with just a visual inspection.
There are a variety of ways in which we try to maintain our equipment:
- Probably the most important maintenance is that of our two transformer stations that take the power from the Hydro One grid. This maintenance is performed by a third party that specializes in this high voltage equipment. We had this maintenance performed at our NOTL Station last month as we needed to take an outage anyway to allow Hydro One to perform some of their capital work.
- Some of our equipment that is located near the QEW also gets coated in salt every year. This is cleaned using dry ice.
- While it is not exactly maintenance, we also trim the trees near our lines. This is done on a three-year cycle across the full town along all the town roads. We do not trim trees on private property. This vegetation management keeps outages down, and so also protects the equipment, by reducing contacts between our equipment and the vegetation.
The art is trying to determine when to replace equipment that is still in use. Ideally, you would only replace equipment that is about to fail. This would keep the outages down while maximizing the use of the equipment thus keeping rates down. It is also impossible.
It therefore becomes a balancing act between not just waiting until the equipment has failed (bad for outages) and relacing the equipment too often thus “gold-plating” the system (bad for rates).
This is where the inspection come in play. By replacing assets based upon their perceived condition we are getting closer to that ideal replacement practice.
Age alone is not sufficient. Some very old equipment can still be in great shape while some newer equipment may be about to fail. This is not just about the quality of the manufacturing, though that is an issue, but is also about where the equipment is located, how it has been used and how much it has been used.
This type of asset management is something the Ontario Energy Board, to their credit, has been pushing electricity companies to use.
Our voltage conversion program https://www.notlhydro.com/underground-voltage-conversion-program/ is a big part of our asset management. As NOTL Hydro is moving to have its full grid at 27.6 kV, any remaining 4 kV parts of the grid will be old so in need or replacement. With the voltage conversion we are both updating this old equipment to new equipment and upgrading the voltage. For the voltage conversions in the Old Town we are also moving the grid underground; thereby achieving three upgrades at once.
When inspecting the equipment, we assign them one of five grades: immediate, critical, poor, good and excellent. Anything graded immediate is replaced that year. As part of our annual capital planning, we review the asset grading as these will affect the decisions. Some years we will replace individual structures (usually a pole and any equipment on the pole) while other years we may replace a whole section of line if much of it is in bad condition. In 2021, we replaced part of Line 8 and next year there are three separate sections of line that will be replaced due to their condition.
The ongoing goal is to improve our reliability thereby improving our service.