Blue Ridge Mountains

Predictive Maintenance: Improving Reliability and Reducing Operating Costs

Posted: January 25, 2018
HEMC CEO Brad Hicks (center) conducts training with employees Clarence Bryson and Craig Carlan on an analysis of dissolved gas and fluid quality for voltage regulator oil which is used for insulation and cooling.

Voltage regulators are hardworking pieces of equipment that operate 24 hours a day to maintain the voltage that powers your home or business.  They have the ability to raise or lower voltage in response to demand.  When everyone gets home from work in the winter and bumps up the heat, voltage regulators ensure the voltage remains at the optimal level and assists in reducing service interruptions. They’re also expensive:  each can cost the cooperative anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 when an issue occurs.

Recently, HEMC implemented a new predictive maintenance program initially focusing on voltage regulators in an effort to increase reliability and potentially prevent outages. According to Randall Black, Metering Services Supervisor, instead of waiting until a problem occurs, the nine voltage regulators on the main lines and in the 18 substations receive a combined monthly visual check and then a systemwide annual operating inspection.

Part of this program also includes an improved testing procedure to identify the regulator’s internal issues such as dissolved gases and carbon levels that could lead to a potential failure. Crews take a sample of the insulating oil and then send to a lab for a chemical analysis to help determine the condition of the oil.  Next, an analysis is made to determine the overall condition and remaining available life of the equipment.

Without this program in place, crews would not have known to intervene before the equipment broke down, meaning outages potentially affecting hundreds of members. This proactive approach to equipment maintenance promotes better reliability and, over time, will reduce operating costs. HEMC can address minor issues and extend the life of the assets, creating a ‘healthier” distribution grid.

Money in your pocket

“By doing this, we’re going to be more efficient at regulating voltage throughout our system, and that’s going to translate into cost savings for the members,” Black said. “We can be more efficient with our power delivery and reduce our overhead costs.”

Lower costs and higher reliability: now that’s the cooperative difference.