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The Importance of RTUs in Substations for Effective Remote Monitoring and Control

Substations Remote Monitoring

In a treeless field outside of town, surrounded by a tall chain-link fence, a substation hums with electricity. It transforms voltage into power that fuels computers to connect us, streetlights to keep us safe, and hospital equipment for miles around. There's no one nearby; the only sound is the wind. However, the substation is still being monitored. Those in charge know exactly what is going on at all times.

If you are responsible for keeping substations running, you know the value of instant access to all relevant equipment and environmental information, while saving time and money.

How RTUs Help

Thanks to Remote Telemetry Units (RTUs), substation owners maintain regulatory compliance, save money, and avoid dangerous outages. Without an RTU in a substation, breakdowns are practically inevitable, fines are likely, and reputational costs are high. It can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair a substation. This eats up labor and places additional burdens on your other substations. When you multiply that by every substation, the costs of not having a simple RTU can be measured in the millions.

RTUs enable operators to monitor all their substations from a centralized location, getting a clear picture from any distance. Therefore, you are able to best utilize manpower to keep your system running. That's why RTUs in substations are increasingly indispensable to owners and operators. They bring remote facilities close to you and give you "more power over your power."

The Dangers of Unmonitored Remote Sites

Let's go back to our remote substation in that wind-swept field. This is one of nearly 77,000 substations in the United States, part of a patchwork of public and private utilities, regulated by local, state, and federal statutes. While these regulations are strict, they are designed to prevent downtime. Fines for being in violation can be punishingly high. For example, failing to provide security has cost companies anywhere from $50,000 to $10,000,000.

Malicious attacks, accidents, storms, and other unforeseen situations can cause sudden power outages and equipment failure. Power loss impacts thousands of people. Food spoils, the elderly suffer and die from extreme hot or cold temperatures, and unfortunate tragedies occur.

Substation Overload and Breakdown

Substations can experience overload or break down due to any number of factors:

  • Large fault currents
  • A lightning strike
  • A cyber attack
  • Terrorist sabotage
  • Power load imbalance
  • Environmental problems
  • Wear and tear and the weight of years taking a toll

That's why protecting your core infrastructure with effective remote monitoring is so critical.

Even when substations aren't running at peak capacity, they are running. There are people depending on them. Your monitoring system protects against downtime in the power grid so there must be no downtime in your monitoring system either.

Regulations and Costly Consequences

As a natural monopoly, utilities answer to the government and other regulatory bodies. On a national level alone, you have both FERC and NERC. There are seven ISOs and four RTOs, each with their own regulations. There are state Public Service Commissions, state EPAs, and public watchdog groups. A substation violation can cost utilities thousands to even millions of dollars.

In addition to huge fines, outages can produce other major hassles. While the public can't generally switch their utilities, customers can complain to their representatives, as is their right. The PR nightmare alone can be a disaster.

That's a costly consequence for an outage that could be triggered by so little. So, how can you keep substations monitored to experience 100% uptime? How can you make sure that when problems arise, you have an automatic solution? The answer is RTUs in substations.

How RTUs in Substations Keep You Connected

All of these situations are a nightmare for utility companies, which can have anywhere from 200-2,500 unmanned substations. It's impossible (and generally pointless) to have someone there at all times, and even regular checkups can't possibly prepare for the inevitable freak accidents.

Remote Telemetry Units can be installed on your system either all at once or step-by-step, with different systems being integrated at different times. When installed, RTUs have many incredible cost-saving functions for you.

RTUs Report Problems to You

When a system is overheating, you need to know - now. If there is a cyber attack on a substation, you need to know - now. An RTU can send a message from any connected substation to your Network Operations Center (NOC), giving you immediate, and specific updates about the health of your remote site.

RTUs Summarize Alerts

Public utilities need a convenient interface for large-scale RTU deployments. A central master station collects information from all alarms, then summarizes any detected problems. Some may be big, some may be small, some may just be false alarms. And that's the key to allocating your resources in a way that saves manpower, time, and money. Therefore, if you send your people to fix a minor problem or to address a situation that can be handled automatically, you are wasting valuable resources on expensive windshield time - paying your highly-trained staff to spend hours simply driving.

RTUs Help You Avoid False Alarms

A smart detection system helps you see what is important and what isn't. Although many utilities have alarm systems, they can't detect between "a small issue that should be evaluated in the near future when convenient" and "a looming catastrophe." False alarms cost you many hours of manpower that could be better used elsewhere.

The Cost of False Alarms

Think of it this way. The average substation electrician earns about $75,000 a year. That's around $36 an hour. If you send two people out to a substation that's a 3-hour drive away, and they spend 2-hours fixing a small situation and then make the 3-hour drive back - that's already wasting you eight-hundred dollars when you include fuel costs.

However, that's just for a minor problem. Costs stack up quickly when there are multiple incidences. In addition, it wastes the time of valuable workers who could be using their knowledge in other ways. After-hours call-outs are even more costly and frustrating for your workers, who have to get out of bed in the middle of the night to track down an unclear problem. Therefore, being proactive with substation reporting is so important!

RTUs Help You Deal with a Problem Automatically

There will always be situations that require your talented engineers to go onsite. But there should be many that can be handled with the click of a mouse, or even automatically, saving you potentially thousands of dollars per alert and better allocating your resources. Remote telemetry units can make it possible for problems to be solved without much- or any- human interaction. After-hours call-outs of your workers can be reduced by an impressive average of 75%.

After-hours call-outs of your workers can be reduced by an impressive average of 75%.

Ready to Make an RTU System Work for You?

When deciding which RTU to install, here are a few questions to consider:

  • Do I have a complete understanding of all my sites?
  • Do I intend to expand or reduce my substations in the next few years?
  • How many types of different systems am I running, and do I plan to integrate them?
  • What kind of data transport do I use now? Will I change my data transport system in the future?
  • What protocols will my remotes use?
  • Do I plan to shift to a standard/open protocol anytime soon?
  • How will I receive my alarms?

If you are a large utility, these are big questions. However, you can't just make quick decisions; there are layers of public and private bureaucracy to work through. That's why it is important to have a telecom partner who realizes your needs, has worked with utilities and understands what you need to get approval from your stakeholders.

RTUs can save you hundreds of thousands of dollars in repair costs, millions in fines, and countless amounts in wasted man-hours.

RTUs aren't a luxury; they are increasingly a necessity. RTUs can save you hundreds of thousands of dollars in repair costs, millions in fines, and countless amounts in wasted man-hours. RTUs are not a neat tool; they are a vital investment in your future and the future of electricity.

Using RTUs is the best way to make sure that your substations keep running, ensuring substantial cost savings, and that you have eyes on even the most remote stations.

DPS Telecom has the experience and expertise to help public utilities monitor what matters most - including their costs. In fact, 70% of large utilities in the United States - and many more globally - already use DPS RTUs. Our technicians can work with you to install RTUs with easy-to-use interfaces for more automatic responses. Reach out and get a quote today!


Image courtesy Unsplash user American Public Power Association

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