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Why Proper Maintenance Matters for High Voltage Insulators

June 19, 2019

Securing the Electrical Grid and Avoiding High Voltage Insulator Issues

 

In today’s world, there is a lot of conversation around securing our electrical infrastructure. The Department of Homeland Security and electrical power plant security work diligently to protect our power grid from attack. Whether it's a cyber attack or attack in the real world, they are vigilant against people who want to take down our essential power.

 

What can happen, just through decades of wear and tear, is some high voltage power lines and substations lose power through maintenance problems. Many of these structures have been in operation for years. There are methods of cleaning and restoring this vital framework to elongate their lifespan. Things like:

 

  • Cleaning power lines

  • Removing rust

  • Repainting power line towers, transformers, and substations

  • Minimizing contaminants

  • Eliminating corrosive chemicals

  • Restoring insulating materials

 

 

The Old Mentality Is Problematic

 

A significant amount of our national power infrastructure was built half a century ago. When built, the mindset was that they would withstand erosive elements and be rejuvenated on a regular basis. Inspections of the equipment are finding levels of corrosion and other contaminants slowly breaking them down. Due to budgetary issues and the sheer size of our power grid, these structures are not getting the attention they need.

 

Transformers tend to rust on the top and around the seals. The original intent was that they would be repainted upon replacement or refurbishment. As time progressed, the amount of attention they received dropped. As a result, rust has become more prevalent and the need for major repair work has increased. A preventative measure that needs to take place is to repaint the transformers with appropriate rust-resistant materials. A utility service company that has this ability can give this equipment the longevity it needs to survive decreased frequencies of inspection. Flow coat painting can help prevent future transformer issues.

 

 

Avoiding High Voltage Insulator Issues

 

High voltage insulator materials face many issues with natural and pollution contaminants. These insulators are responsible for maintaining the integrity of electrical current. As insulators break down, the amperage, voltage, and wattage the power lines carry leak through. This weakening has to be compensated with more electrical output. Eroding elements include:

 

  • Acid rain

  • Engine Exhaust

  • Smog

  • Soot

  • Airborne ash

  • Blown soil containing mineral salts

  • Dust

 

Rain and wind wash most of these contaminants away, but not all. Oil particles that come from engine exhaust, when mixed with moisture, can create carbon build up as the oil burns away from heat. Mineral salts from soil or dust mix with water and create a conductive layer that leaches the electricity out of the wires. To eliminate these problems, high voltage insulator cleaning is the most efficient way to solve this.

 

Contaminates can hide damage to non-ceramic insulators. The consequence of this damage is creating weak points where a corona effect can happen. Nitric acid is formed when ionization appears with the nitrogen in the atmosphere, causing sparking. Carbon residue is then formed from the sparking. As the acid and carbon build up, low-resistant areas further the degradation of the power lines. Cleaning high voltage insulator materials is the best way to decrease the damage that perpetuates corona effect issues.

 

Solutions To Maintain High Voltage Insulators

 

As shown above, contaminants that disburse on the high voltage insulator materials will reduce the effectiveness of the insulation. Predictive modeling is almost impossible to calculate, but a higher frequency of flashovers and arcing can result in the following:

 

  • Service interruptions

  • Additional labor costs for repairs

  • Equipment damage

  • An increase in hazardous conditions to workers

 

Preventive inspection, maintenance, and cleaning is a best practice to reduce these risks. There are methods to clean the insulators without interrupting electrical service. Identifying damage and removing harmful compounds can lessen negative effects. It can also add longevity to the insulating material. Utility Service and Maintenance in the St. Louis area has the ability, experience, and equipment to safely complete this process.

 

 

Concerns About Transformers

 

Transformers are expected to have a long operational life cycle. Besides being expected to operate efficiently, they must also withstand the contaminants of existing outdoors. This includes:

 

  • Thermal cycling

  • Blown dust abrasion

  • Pollution

  • Rain, snow, sleet, and hail

  • The sun’s ultraviolet rays

 

These issues plus a host of others, put a great strain on the protective paint sealant that protects the device from rust and other corrosive materials. While no paint can last for decades, regular flow coat painting can restore the protective layer, keeping the transformer safe from weathering concerns.

 

The process of rusting on a transformer starts on the top. This is the area that is most exposed to the sun, as well as where corrosive materials settle. Water can exploit cracks in the paint, slowly chipping it away. As the rust develops, more of the steel is exposed, exposing more areas to oxidation. As time goes by, the sides of the transformer will soon begin to rust, weakening the transformer housing. Be aware that once you start seeing rust on the sides, the top will already bear signs of heavy oxidation.

 

A utility service company that inspects transformer housings are the only real way to determine the extent of rust damage. The outside of the housing could show light rusting effect, but internally, the damage could be much worse. Once the oxidation has gone completely through the steel housing, dielectric oil can start to leak out and allow contamination inside the housing. This oil is used as an insulator to keep electricity contained. Damage at this point can only be repaired by shutting down the transformer. The process to refurbish the transformer can be long, expensive, and dangerous to the workers completing the process. Creating a regular schedule with a utility service company to repaint the transformers with the proper paint is a great practice to avoid these concerns.

 

Repainting Transformers To Avoid Rust

 

Inspection, cleaning, and repainting transformers in a regular cycle can elongate the life cycle of the equipment. Rusting is an indicator that it is time to repaint. A good rule of thumb is that if you identify rust in one spot, it probably exists elsewhere on the component. The same holds true from transformer to transformer in the same area. Scheduling a utility service company for paint services can be cost efficient if you schedule all of them to be repainted at the same time, rather than one at a time.

 

Using the proper paint, like flow coat painting products, acts as a sealant against moisture, chemicals, and other corrosive elements. This protects the transformer not only from oxidation, but also saves the integrity of the dielectric oil. As a result, more time can pass before the transformer is due to be refurbished. Moisture damage is one of the smallest reasons for transformer failure, but the repair work required can be extensive.

 

Rust is a thermal insulator. The more the oxidation builds, the less effective cooling systems become. Issues that arise due to cooling problems are:

 

  • Reduction in maintaining operational temperatures

  • Increased load strain on pumps

  • Electrical loss

  • Mechanical failures due to rust corrosion

  • Loss of pipe integrity

  • Strength of the fins on the cooling system fans

  • Leaks developing

 

These and other reasons can lead to some of the more common reasons that transformer cooling systems fail. Repainting the transformer also is a preventive measure in protecting the cooling system from breaking down.

 

 

Failures In Substation Components

 

Electrical substation devices are mostly made of steel. Rusting is a big factor in the mechanical failure of these parts. Inspecting, cleaning, and repainting these parts are just as much of a necessity as the transformers and power lines. Regular preventive maintenance schedules should be created to prevent avoidable disasters from happening.

 

Load bearing structures like pylons and supports are at a greater risk of corrosive damage due to rust. Many of these structures are created to rock with the wind to reduce wind resistance. The effect of this rocking is abrasive as the various parts wear each other down. This abrasion exposes moisture and other contaminants to the steel, creating oxidation. It also allows rusting elements to get into more vital parts of the supports. This deep rust can destroy them that much faster. Repairing this damage is difficult, dangerous, and expensive. A utility service company performing regular preventive maintenance is the best way to avoid these problems.

 

Another danger of rust is the detrimental effect it has on instrumentation, circuitry, and switching gears. This necessary machinery is used to control the substation. They all take operational pressure, thermal temperatures, and other strains to keep the substation working. Many of these parts are made to precise measurements. Yet the materials they are made from may not be the best quality. Any oxidation to these parts can result in a system interruption or failure.

 

Like power transformers, instrumentation transformers are susceptible to corrosion and rust. The difference is that a small leak, created from corrosion, can drain the device of its insulating oil. Device failure could result in a system blackout or uncontrolled operation. Keeping these transformers painted, will also keep contaminants out of these critical components.

 

Creating A Preventive Maintenance Routine

 

High voltage power lines are dangerous work to repair. The financial losses that occur could mean the difference between making the quarter’s projections or not. Inspecting and cleaning high voltage insulator materials can identify weak spots that can create electrical failures and add longevity to the components. There are many different cleaning methods that a utility service company can perform without interruption of electrical service.

 

Inspecting, cleaning, and repainting high voltage equipment can save utility companies time and money when compared to major repair work. Even though some of the equipment may be more difficult to inspect than others, a visual inspection should give you enough information to find rusted parts that need repainting. Many problems can be avoided through a regular repainting routine by resealing components and maintaining their integrity.

 

The process of flow coat painting this equipment takes time and specialized equipment that a utility service company has. Paint adheres best when it is applied to clean dry surfaces. Cleaning components while the equipment is still active can be difficult due to tight spaces or risk of being electrocuted. A utility service company that has the specialized equipment for this work can safely clean surfaces from the many contaminants that settle on the equipment.

 

 

Other Effects Of Equipment Breakdown

 

Creating a preventive maintenance schedule that inspects, cleans, and repaints high voltage power equipment is a cost-effective method of averting major problems in the future. Proper painting methods, like flow coat painting, are an excellent way of sealing the equipment. The paint itself will have a lifespan of a certain amount of years. This is why inspections by a utility service company should occur every few years.

 

The stress and wear on the equipment do take a toll on components. While steel is a strong material, like everything else, it wears out over time. Many of these decades-long components have stood the test of time. Preventive measures can give these components the ability to last beyond their recommended service time periods, but only with the proper care.

 

The future is going to be electronic. Customers will require more electricity to power their homes, devices, and potentially recharge their vehicles as time goes on. This can create service problems with the high voltage equipment as they are pushed to higher limits. By keeping a cleaning and painting routine, the power grid will remain stable. Electric service outages, don’t just cost repair money. They can also cause the following:

 

  • Customers lose faith and switch providers (if applicable)

  • Investors could sell off their bonds, costing capital for operations

  • Federal regulators could become more directly involved

 

Having a proactive plan of preventive maintenance can save the electric utility company from multiple issues. The best solution is always to proactively avoid them. That’s why flow coat painting, cleaning & coating, and resurfacing solutions are needed to ensure that transformers stay usable for as long as possible.

 

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