Smart grids, distributed generation and cutting-edge materials are dramatically altering how electricity is transmitted and distributed. These opportunities, however, also come with a series of technical challenges that must be resolved before they can be implemented effectively.

CEATI International, which represents 120 utilities, offers collaborative programs that provide engineering guidance on issues relevant to the evolving electricity business. By bringing electrical utility industry professionals together, CEATI provides a platform for utilities to identify and address the issues that are critical to their organizations.

Strength in Numbers

Collaboration, through interest groups in a variety of sector-specific areas, offers a path to cost leveraging and an open exchange of best practices. Many of CEATI's interest groups are focused on asset management, including some dedicated to distribution, transmission and station equipment assets, while others are focused on power quality, overhead line design, storm mitigation and underground cables.

For example, CEAT's Transmission Line Asset Management Interest Group and Distribution Assets Life-Cycle Management Interest Group are initiating projects that will develop guidance on how utilities can improve their monitoring capabilities, identify changes to their right-of-way and perform a visual asset inspection through high-resolution satellite imagery.

An Indicator of Asset Health

CEATI also has developed resources for the evaluation of asset health. For example, the Life-Cycle Management of Station Equipment and Apparatus Group created tools for evaluating condition and non-condition risk factors for transformers and load tap changers to assess probability of failure and remaining useful life. This Health and Risk Index helps utilities to recognize the necessary maintenance and inspection activities for evaluating conditions and how these can be tied together to formulate an overall indicator of health.

This index has been expanded in subsequent projects to include circuit breakers, circuit switchers, switches/disconnects, instrument transformers, surge arrestors and capacitors. One utility was able to use the results to optimize its substation inspection and preventative maintenance program. The savings amounted to more than US$2 million across its asset base.

Proper Procedures Under Severe Conditions

A key aspect of successful asset management is proper design and maintenance under contingency conditions. As utilities are confronted with swelling numbers of outages brought on by major storms, this issue is becoming ever more significant. One of the Overhead Design Issues and Storm Mitigation Interest Group's primary focuses is on emergency restoration in the aftermath of extreme events.

This group has undertaken several efforts to further advance knowledge about best practices, tools and methods to restore lines to service as safely, quickly and cost-effectively as possible. More than 20 utilities across North America have worked together to develop a report, “Emergency Restoration Methods Under Extreme Events: A Report on Best Practices.”

Maintenance issues are also on the agenda for a workshop set for Oct. 5, 2012, in Tampa, Florida, U.S. This one-day session will look at overhead transmission system corrosion and cover condition assessment of above- and below-ground portions of metal structures, application of cathodic protection systems, design of corrosion resistant structures, and maintenance programming and protective coating strategies.

The cornerstone of the CEATI model is the collaborative nature of its research programs, which allow utilities to come together on areas of common interest and leverage their resources. Participants have the option of bringing their own projects to the table to solicit both technical and financial support from the group. As such, participants can undertake projects that respond to their strategic goals at a fraction of the cost of doing so independently. The result is a flexible, dynamic user-driven program structured to address the specific needs of its participants.

As utilities seek to find innovative solutions to improve delivery of reliable and affordable electric energy, they also must do so at a time when R&D budgets are being challenged. Working through CEATI's utility-only closed-door forums creates cost-effective solutions to exploring the optimal design of these systems.


Peter Gelineau (peter.gelineau@ceati.com) is program manager, transmission and distribution, at CEATI International.

Editor's note: Industry workshops and symposiums are a vital tool used by CEATI for information exchange. CEATI will host a Nanotechnology Technical Session in October 2012, which will look at how nanotechnology impacts the electric distribution industry with regards to new insulating materials, structural strength materials, power electronics, energy generation and storage, and smart grids.