Infrastructure assets in the power industry are the lifeblood that keeps the power on. The data these assets generate is key to understanding how to make the most of them. But often utilities struggle to proactively monitor assets, making it difficult to prioritize projects and predict end-of-life timelines.

This unfortunately translates into lost reliability for utilities, resulting in higher capital costs and potential for poor customer relations. Using asset health assessments and the data they create to become more predictive and proactive goes a long way in building higher reliability into power utility systems.

As many long-time workers retire and reduction of operation and maintenance budgets occurs, power utilities are seeking ways to cut down on truck rolls and the need to send workers into the field for asset assessments. New sensor technology allows organizations to collect much-needed asset data remotely, using professionals in the operations center to analyze the data to determine asset health needs. This not only improves service quality by building a consistent dataset but cuts down on time-consuming assessments and cost.

Armed with this knowledge, organizations can begin looking at asset trends, such as spikes in temperature or partial discharges on a transformer. Once these trends are understood, action can be taken to save an asset before failure, extending its life rather than a total loss of the asset. Additionally, if a utility knows what it is spending on operations and maintenance for a particular asset, then it becomes easier to understand when an asset has become a cost burden; this leads to more effective capital planning across the organization.

Reliability is key for utilities, especially in today’s market, where the relationship between the consumer and the utility is changing rapidly. Often, the only news coverage a utility gets is negative — in the wake of an outage, fire or other failed asset that harms public perception of a company. Monitoring the health of assets and being proactive in repair and replacement means utilities reduce outages.

Besides monitoring the health of assets, another way a utility can increase its reliability is by focusing on vegetation management. In remote areas where growth is unmonitored, encroaching trees can cause outages and fires, decreasing reliability and harming a company’s relationship with the public. Using both asset health monitoring and data analytics to predict areas of high risk of foliage infringement, utilities begin to understand the possibility of a failure or event before it happens, further boosting overall reliability.

Utilities are always trying to provide high-value customer service. Asset health monitoring is a proactive way to provide more reliable service. By applying the data collected through asset health assessments to create more proactive asset management, utilities can become better stewards of their own assets and strengthen their relationship with the public.

Chrissy Carr is the director of sales and marketing for the Burns & McDonnell Networks, Integration & Automation Group. She specializes in the design of telecommunications systems and utility automation. She has extensive engineering and project management experience, including responsibilities in planning and design of wired and wireless infrastructure for a wide variety of clients in the municipal utilities, investor-owned utilities, rural electric cooperatives, industrial companies, and state and federal governments.