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Technology Research Area:

Smart Sensors

What are smart sensors, and what do they have to do with TVA's mission?

Power delivery systems are among the largest investments for utilities. They are widely diverse and often located in remote areas. A high demand for power and budget restrictions are putting well-aged transmission lines and substation equipment to the test.

New technologies are being developed with the potential to boost management of utility assets, improve transmission reliability, eliminate unnecessary and dangerous maintenance, and create a smarter transmission system.

TVA, the Electric Power Research Institute and other utilities are developing a new generation of low-cost, smart sensors that can monitor the health of power transmission and substation equipment in remote locations

What is TVA doing about this technology?

TVA is investigating smart sensors that will help operators and maintenance personnel assess the condition and performance of power systems as the systems are operating. TVA deployed over 100 wireless sensors on substation equipment at the Paradise Fossil Plant in order to better understand:

  • How sensors perform in the substation environment
  • Communication and data collection issues
  • Data security issues
  • Power harvesting for sensor operations
  • How to improve data visualization and operator interaction.

What are the possibilities for smart sensors?

A transmission system fitted with smart sensors could monitor characteristic properties of power transmission components and evaluate how they are performing while they are actually in service.

Improved knowledge of equipment condition and the stresses the equipment has undergone will let operators and maintenance personnel better manage the system, and learn how to use the system more efficiently.

Higher dynamic ratings may result from the more precise, real-time knowledge that sensors can provide about the condition of components. Increasing ratings in this way could allow maximum current delivery, without exceeding clearances or insulation ratings.

Next Steps

TVA is focused on maintaining the health of sometimes-aging transformers and circuit breakers. It is, for example, installing next-generation sensors at its Concord and Madison substations to monitor performance. This can provide timely insight into critical infrastructure assets, and help TVA lower cost and ensure reliability of its transmission system.

Transformers are vital components of the TVA Bulk Electric System and TVA is applying two technologies for evaluation with hopes of increasing the overall reliability of the transmission system.

  • Acoustic Emission Monitoring System (AE), a system of sensors that can detect, record and analyze noise inside a transformer, can indicate Partial Discharges (PD), internal damage or aging.
  • Low-cost online Dissolved Gas Analysis (DGA) Analyzer can monitor key fault gases that can indicate developing internal faults or an oil breakdown.








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