When you think of asset health, you may not instantly make a connection between its uses and the efforts of utilities to develop grid planning processes. However, utilities can easily apply the benefits to track the condition of components and equipment related to the distribution of power to better their business.

Asset health is, at its most basic, the use of data to perform predictive analytics to establish the overall condition of an asset — be it a pole, cable or transformers. The condition of assets is always declining over time, but utilities find themselves attempting to determine at what rate this decline is happening. The predictive analysis offered by asset health management can help utilities understand when an asset might fail, assisting in avoiding outages and, ultimately, saving the utility money.

For a power utility, whose major capital expenditures include the replacement of major components, this information is invaluable. If any of these pieces of equipment is causing more harm to the overall system because it is costly to run or is trending toward failure, then it may be more efficient and cost effective to replace that piece, to the benefit of the entire system.

Additionally, the ability to predict when an asset might fail gives the utility the chance to more accurately plan its capital expenditures from year to year. Because unpredictable capital expenditures have the potential to negatively affect a company, understanding their asset’s health helps them plan for what pieces will need replacement or maintenance throughout a given year.

Basing a plan on asset health and predictive analytics can also assist utilities who have a smaller or less experienced workforce. Without the staff necessary to cover all locations and physically check the components over many hundreds of locations, having a system in place that tells a utility when to replace an asset increases operational efficiency.

In recent years, with the introduction of more energy efficient appliances and electronics, power utilities have seen a decline in revenues. This has led utilities to adopt smart grid systems with the ability to capture data in the hope of more accurately understanding consumer rates and peak hours. Now, more than ever, these utilities want to see the results of this data collection and to be able to translate it to benefit their business. With the help of new technology, consulting firms are assisting utilities in using the data to improve overall efficiency and customer experience.

We have seen from the example set by large technology firms, such as Google, that the collection of large amounts of data is the new norm. For utilities who have collected this data, the question becomes: “How do we put it to use?” Asset health and predictive analytics now offer us an answer: the ability to organize a utility’s data in a smart, practical way.

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.