The power grid companies need to think in new directions and invest in digitalization

In the summer of 2023, large parts of Sweden have been affected by persistent and heavy rain. These downpours have not only given us gloomy summer weather but also provided insights into a future where critical infrastructure like the power grid needs to be adapted to new, extreme weather conditions. The demands to maintain operations in all weather conditions pose significant challenges for power grid companies. This development is also driven by a global situation marked by nearby wars, conflicts, and an urgent need for a green transition.

As extreme weather events become increasingly common, power grid companies need to think innovatively and invest in technology capable of predicting, preventing, and automating significant portions of maintenance work. A crucial part of the solution is to connect assets at transformer stations for real-time data collection and combine it with AI analysis. This type of digitalization opens up entirely new possibilities to make informed decisions that ensures the long-term functionality and sustainability of substation equipment, even under challenging weather conditions.

"It's evident that we must adapt to manage a daily life where severe weather conditions are the new normal. Notably, heavy rainfall in a short period can disrupt operations. With connected transformer stations, we create better conditions for monitoring and securing our units regardless of the weather. Furthermore, it means that we can automate much of the time-consuming work that would otherwise need to be done manually. This way, we can utilize our employees' expertise where it's needed most without compromising safety," comments Stefan Andersson, Electrical Engineer at Härnösand Elnät.

Automation and real-time monitoring provide a more robust power grid

To ensure the reliability and operation of the power grid, companies have traditionally relied on scheduled inspections and reactive maintenance measures. This often means that technicians, regardless of weather conditions, must go out into the field solely for the purpose of manually checking selected functions.

Extreme weather conditions can also result in road closures, which in the worst case can make the transformer station difficult or impossible to reach. Manual maintenance in this case poses an even greater risk factor, as a breakdown can quickly have a significant impact on energy supply. In the event of a breakdown, the environment is also at risk, as both oil and gas can potentially leak into nature.

In light of this, efficient maintenance work is crucial for a sustainable and reliable energy system. By installing sensors and monitoring systems at substations, real-time data on the status and performance of components can be collected. Advanced algorithms and artificial intelligence can continuously analyze the data and be used to predict when components are in need of service or replacement. This allows maintenance measures to be carried out under optimal conditions, creating clear value instead of costs. It reduces the risk of technicians and other employees being exposed to dangerous situations while increasing the efficiency of maintenance work and extending the lifespan of equipment.

The workforce of the future – Digital Officers

One of the most significant elements in the future of the power grid is remote monitoring. Digitalization makes it possible to keep an eye on substations 24/7, year-round when operators, aided by AI and continuous data analysis, can quickly detect any deviations and take action before problems arise.

Simultaneously, it's evident that the increasing digitalization and use of real-time data in the power grid industry have created a demand for a new type of workforce. More and more power grid companies are now seeking "digital officers," experts who can lead the digitization of power grids and optimize the use of new technology to ensure a reliable power supply.

This role involves developing and implementing advanced monitoring and maintenance systems that utilize artificial intelligence to predict and prevent issues. It often includes collaboration with technicians and operators to ensure that the power grid functions as it should, even under demanding weather conditions.

What does reality look like?

"When we look at Gomero's monitoring system and user interface, SIPP Web, we see a clear trend over the summer. For example, our stationary units worked at least four times more than usual during the Hans storm. Normally, our monitoring system generates 20 to 100 automated work protocols per day. During the passage of Hans, over 400 work protocols were generated in the same time frame," commented Nina Lian, Head of Customer Success at Gomero.

Many examples also demonstrate a distinct difference between substations with automated transformer bund maintenance and those still managed manually. The first graph (below) shows an oil trap with automatic drainage. Despite heavy rainfall, the water level has remained consistently low, thus securing the bund from flooding and potential oil spills in nature. The second graph illustrates an oil trap with manual drainage. In less than a day, the water level has risen to a critical point, posing a significant risk of flooding with potentially environmentally hazardous oil-contaminated water.


SIPP Web automatiserat underhåll

Graph 1. Automated Maintenance with Stable Low Water Level


SIPP Web manuellt underhåll

Graph 2. Manual Maintenance with Critically High Water Level