Keeping power plants running smoothly has always been a critical industry focus, but it is even more vital now. As the current environment of stay-at-home orders and social distancing has limited site access to essential personnel, maintaining a reliable electrical power system has become more challenging. In particular, the traditional approach of evaluating and resolving protective device operation on-site may not be feasible. Fortunately, digital collaboration can be leveraged to deliver the same troubleshooting process remotely and provide fast solutions.

Should an electrical protection device operate, whether a small equipment failure or an entire facility outage, electrical protection engineers can use the protection system’s detailed relay setting documentation to start the troubleshooting process. Without setting foot on-site, engineers can remotely review preliminary data and perform a technical analysis to quickly identify what happened and work with site personnel to develop a recommended solution.

Of course, the linchpin to facilitate this process is an accurate and well organized database of the protection system relay settings. Unfortunately, some power plants lack detailed background information on how the protective systems and devices are intended to operate, which can make the troubleshooting efforts difficult. An effective solution is to develop better system protection documentation prior to an event happening. This is done by evaluating the existing relay settings in these devices to produce a comprehensive design basis document for the settings. This also provides an opportunity to identify potential optimizations that increase the speed and reliability of the electrical protection system.

Even after our days of social distancing are behind us, taking the time now to establish and organize this crucial information will save power plants valuable time when troubleshooting the next time an electrical event happens. And in the meantime, the relay settings data — and associated digital troubleshooting capabilities — will allow a smooth, quick and safe way to remotely diagnose issues and determine solutions.

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Blaise Smith is a senior electrical engineer at Burns & McDonnell. He specializes in the design and assessment of power plant and generator protection systems.