Startup challenge: Inspection of critical systems at substations

A solution based on acoustic emissions is the winner of the Challenge to simplify assembly in substations

The Polish company Smart PD won the Startup Challenge Inspection of critical systems at substations, seeking simple and low-cost solutions that make it possible to identify anomalies during cell assembly work in medium and high voltage substations.

Inspección de sistemas críticos en subestaciones
The winner will sign a collaboration agreement and be able to try out their project.

Iberdrola has over 1.2 million kilometres of electricity transmission and distribution lines, spread throughout the United States, Brazil, the UK and Spain. This network comprises over 4,400 high to medium voltage sub-stations and more than 1.5 million medium to low voltage distribution transformers, built and operated to provide a high-quality and reliable service to a total of 31 million electricity supply points.

On many occasions, breakdowns occur in the switchgears with origin in assembly failures that could not be detected during factory tests, since the equipment is assembled onsite, nor during the visual inspection procedures, since they are located in inaccessible areas inside the switchgear, within the substations. Some examples of these faults include: power cable errors in making the terminal connections, incorrect connection of unconnected earth strips, auxiliary items that have not been fitted, among others.

The repercussions of these failures in the insulation manifest in the form of partial discharges.

Currently, these high-frequency phenomena can be detected by a number of methods, such as ultrasound or transmitted or radiated fluctuations. Thus, partial discharge detection techniques are used in very high voltage substations for very expensive equipment, such as underground cables and GIS substations. From these measurements, Iberdrola's highly-specialised staff analyse the results and finally establish the root of the problem.

The problem here is that these are costly and complex methods that also require sophisticated equipment. Furthermore, during assembly and disassembly operations of critical equipment, one of the following actions is also required:

  • Installing permanent monitoring systems.
  • De-energising the installation during assembly and disassembly of the partial discharge sensors.

The cost and complexity of these jobs, as well as the difficulty of de-energising the facilities, make their application in high and medium voltage systems unviable.

Description of the challenge

Given this context, Iberdrola — through its International Startup Programme - PERSEO — launched a challenge in the search for competitive, innovative solutions that make it possible to identify anomalies when assembling switchgear at medium and high voltage substations.

The winning solution was Smart PD, a low-cost, continuous, on-line partial discharge monitoring system for medium- (MV) & high-voltage (HV) switchgears and transformers using piezoelectric sensors (diaphragms). Smart PD is based on Acoustic Emission and uses low-cost piezoelectric sensors for partial discharges identification.

Smart PD is a sister company of Polish AE Steel External link, opens in new window., a high-tech startup founded to develop acoustic emission (AT) technology.

The prize

The selected project will be developed in collaboration with the technical specialists from the Iberdrola Networks area.

The prize consists of us signing a collaboration agreement for the development of a proof-of-concept with PERSEO or any other relevant Iberdrola group company, who will assume the costs and provide the winner with the necessary technical support, giving access to infrastructures and real data to test the solution.

In addition, it will be included directly in the process of joining the Global Smart Grids Innovation Hub, as one more collaborator who will be able to benefit from the services, activities and resources that are made available in the GSGIHub.

If the proof-of-concept is satisfactory, Iberdrola may offer the winner the opportunity to scale up the solution by means of commercial agreements.

In addition, Perseo may consider investing in the participant.

The deadline for registration was between 8 March and 5 April 2021. The winner was announced in 19 April 2021.