Start-up challenge: Underground cables monitoring

We are looking for innovative solutions to monitor the underground cabling of our electrical grid

PERSEO Start-up challenge Electrical network Smart Grids GSGIH

From Iberdrola’s start-up programme, PERSEO, we have launched a challenge in search of disruptive and efficient ideas to improve the supervision of our extensive underground cabling and the detection of possible incidents, particularly at cable joints.

Underground cables monitoring

At Iberdrola we have more than 400,000 Transformer Centres (TC) in the United States, Brazil, United Kingdom and Spain. These Centres house 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.

As the electricity supplier and network operators across Spain, US, UK and Brazil, the Iberdrola Group has used underground cables extensively.

To meet the expectations of our communities to minimise the virtual impacts, and to reduce the associated time to connect our customers and renewable resources, both transmission level (from 132kV and above) and distribution level (66kV, 33kV, 11kV and 400 Volts) cables have been commonly deployed across our networks.

However, over the past several decades, those cables have been commissioned from different suppliers and of different types to support the gradual development of the electricity networks due to the nature of our sector.  Most distribution cables had no condition-monitoring facilities when they were constructed. Cables are often jointed at different lengths, and those cable-joints can be the weakest points along the whole route.

Description of the Challenge

In this context, Iberdrola, through our PERSEO Startups Program, is looking for solutions that enable the early detection of incidents in underground cables (with particular attention to cable joints) through an advanced and non-intrusive condition monitoring approach, with the aim of enabling proactive asset management and reducing the impact of incidents on supply and on our customers.

We encourage and welcome any approach from other sectors (such as oil/gas, telecom or military), since this topic has been noticed by the industry for some time. So far, the most common condition monitoring system is based on Partial Discharge (PD). Anticipating most correspondences might be on PD approach. It might be useful for us to share the lessons learned:

  • While PD is a proven technology, applying it to our cable network is a difficult task.

  • The most accurate cable PD results are possible using offline testing – however this requires an outage (difficult / expensive)

  • Online PD monitoring is an alternative and we have done BAU trials in SPM – however the conclusions were that distribution networks are vast, and have multiple and varied loads creating noise on the waveforms

  • Without the possibility of burying new optical fibres along with the existing cables, how to bring the signal from the underground condition is another challenge.  

In addition, consideration will be given to:

  • The maturity, reliability and scalability of the solution, including hardware (sensors), and software/algorithm for both equipment management and data processing to generate warnings.

  • Simplicity of installation (Plug&Play), maintenance and autonomy (low consumption/self-powered).

  • Integration with current monitoring systems.

  • The total cost, both initial and recurrent.

  • Application in other energy assets such as substations and overhead lines.

Smart grids

The challenge is launched within the framework of the new Global Smart Grids Innovation Hub. At Iberdrola our aim is to make the Hub a worldwide grid benchmark, through open collaboration and Co-Working between i-DE technicians, suppliers, Startups and different organizations from all around the world.

The team of experts from Iberdrola's Networks business will be responsible for selecting the solution or innovative solutions that enable the early identification of incidents at transformer centres.

The prize

The prize will consist of a collaboration and test agreement with  PERSEO or any other Group company, which will bear the cost of these activities and provide the winner with all necessary technical support, as well as an environment and real data to test the solution, providing access to equipment, teams, infrastructure, high technology sites and shared work areas. The selected project will be developed in collaboration with technical specialists from the Iberdrola Networks area.

It will also be included directly in the Global Smart Grids Innovation Hub registration process, as another collaborator able to benefit from the services, activities and resources that the GSGI Hub makes available.

If the trial or test of the concept is satisfactory, Iberdrola may offer the winner the opportunity to scale up the solution, adopting it by means of commercial agreements. In addition, PERSEO may consider investing in the participating company and/or the winner of the challenge.

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