A Scottish Utility Pilots IoT Technology

3rd Jun 2019

By Nick Smye
Monday, June 03, 2019

Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) is an electricity distribution network operator in northern Scotland. Its territory includes some of the most exposed parts of the U.K., subject to storms from the North Atlantic. The Isle of Skye is the largest and northernmost of the major islands in the Inner Hebrides and is exposed to the harshest of Scottish weather, along with challenging terrain for communications solutions.

A key overhead power line of wooden pole construction was chosen for an internet of things (IoT) pilot. Wooden poles are subject to rot and structural weakness over time that can result in catastrophic structural failure. While such failures are infrequent, a failure can result in an outage to all downstream customers until repairs can be carried out. Monitoring wooden pole structural integrity has traditionally been done by physical inspection, which is labor intensive and limits inspection frequency.

SSEN embarked on a four-year pilot to fit remote sensors on the wooden poles on its main transmission line over Skye. The goal is to detect gradual pole movements and then address them before they cause permanent failure. In addition, if sudden pole movements are detected and need immediate intervention, then response teams can quickly identify which poles are affected and get to them faster than relying on sectionalizing or on-the-ground line patrols. In both cases, there is the potential to significantly minimize the impact of outage.

SSEN and partner Ekkosense installed a remote pole monitoring system operating in near real time. There was no coverage from commercial mobile networks, so the companies built a private Long Range (LoRa) low-power wireless access (LPWA) network to connect the pole-mounted sensors to the host application. The pole-mounted sensors are so sensitive that they can detect a sheep rubbing against the pole and provide new insight into the dynamic behavior of overhead lines during strong winds. A key part of such a solution is the data analytics that analyze the large volumes of data and pull out key information and trends.

IoT has driven the development of low-cost sensors and LPWA technologies at a speed that would not have been thought possible a few years ago. The IoT concept is broad, and a number of different IoT market sectors have emerged, each using IoT in a slightly different way to serve the needs of the sector. A number of low-power wireless technologies, offering different trade-offs between cost, speed, latency, security and quality of service are available.

For critical communications users, the suitability of IoT for different applications depends on the combination of all the individual IoT elements in the chain. For mission-critical applications, off-the-shelf commercial IoT is unlikely to be suitable, but for non-mission-critical applications, IoT can support operations by enriching the decision-making process.

For more details on various IoT technologies, along with 5G and security considerations, see the Quarter 2 issue of RadioResource International magazine.


Radio Resource

Nick Smye is a principal consultant with Mason Advisory with more than 35 years of experience in the communications industry. He previously worked in the electricity industry, where he gained experience in the design, development and planning of mobile and fixed radio communications services, for nearly 10 years. He now focuses on the public sector, delivering projects for clients including major emergency service organizations and government departments. He is chair of the TCCA SCADA, Telemetry and Smart Grid Working Group.


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