The Importance of Utility Maintenance During a Global Pandemic

October 6, 2020

 

 

When faced with a global pandemic, there is a lot of uncertainty regarding the provision of essential services such as utilities. With people keeping themselves safe by staying home during a pandemic, they will be using more electricity and gas than usual. Therefore, utility maintenance is required to keep utilities running as optimally as possible.

 

To provide power in your home during a global pandemic, utility companies rely on structures such as transmission towers and substations. Many power plants are found in remote areas, far away from large cities or towns. Transmission towers provide a means by which the electricity in power plants can be transported to your home via high-voltage transmission lines.

 

Why Transmission Towers and Substations Are Important

 

Since the electricity coming from the power plants has a high voltage, transmission towers transport this high-voltage electricity via substations. Substations essentially act like step-downs, converting high-voltage electricity into much lower voltage, usually 120 Volts, that is safe to use in your home. Hence, transmission towers and substations are key in the safe and efficient delivery of electricity to your home.

 

As a city or town grows with an increase in homes and businesses, there is a need for more electric coverage. Utility companies use substations and transmission towers to extend power to areas lacking power. Depending on the size of the area and capacity of the substation providing power, utility companies might need to expand power coverage. It is critical, during such times, that the substation is well-maintained to ensure ease of expanding power coverage.

 

Substations also reduce congestion on the power grid by opening new power supplies. This is particularly useful for companies looking to establish their own power supply, especially if they are performing high electric load work such as manufacturing.

 

Additionally, substations divide long transmission lines into small sections that can easily be managed by utility companies. In case of any mechanical issues at substations resulting in power outages, smaller areas are affected, with fewer homes and businesses losing power.

 

Why It Is Critical to Maintain Transmission Towers and Substations

 

During the global pandemic, many business operations came to a standstill, resulting in significant job layoffs. Many companies also lost revenue, and both small and large businesses have been affected. In addition to these issues, utility companies are also affected because of delays in the supply chain. Despite all these issues, it is critical to maintain transmission towers and substations for the following reasons:

 

Durability of the Towers and Substations

 

The majority of transmission towers are structures made of galvanized steel, which can last many years prior to showing signs of corrosion. However, the onset of corrosion in these towers often proceeds exponentially.

 

Corrosion takes place in four phases: phases I and II involve rusting non-extensive rusting, while phases III and IV are more extreme and could result in damage of the transmission tower. By carrying out routine maintenance of these towers, transmission tower companies can preserve the durability of the towers.

 

Additionally, transmission tower companies can preserve the functionality of towers even during exposure to harsh elements such as snow, ice, and ultraviolet radiation. There is often a need for increased utility maintenance in areas with higher levels of air pollution, those with elevated temperature fluctuations, as well as exposure to salt conditions.

 

Similarly, maintenance of substations equipment preserves its durability. Some of the important substations equipment that requires maintenance include:

  • Voltage, current, and power transformers which step down the voltage to enable transport from the substations to homes and businesses.

  • Circuit breakers. These open and close circuits and can act as fuses.

  • Surge arresters that provide equipment protection during surges arising from lightning.

  • Disconnect switches and busbars. Disconnect switches isolate and make visible units undergoing maintenance work, safeguarding workers at substations.

  • Reactors which stabilize the power system.

  • Capacitors which minimize fluctuations in voltage.

  • Compensators which provide reactive power.

A lot of this equipment is specialized, and utility maintenance goes a long way in increasing the life of the equipment.

 

It Saves Money for Utility Companies

 

Routine utility maintenance also saves transmission tower companies money because it prevents potential issues that might result in power outages. During a global pandemic, transmission tower companies cannot rule out the chances that there will be less technicians, engineers, or support staff available to carry out repairs.

 

These staff could become infected and not be able to come into work. Their family members could also get sick, leaving the staff quarantined. The staff could also have to take time off to take care of sick family members. In cases of a global pandemic in which state guidelines require smaller crews to perform repairs, it also means that there will be less staff to perform such repairs.

 

The cost of utility maintenance during a pandemic would also be much cheaper than having to perform costly repairs. For transmission tower companies, a regular maintenance plan would involve the following:

  • Making a detailed budget to forecast potential spending on parts, labor, and any unforeseen costs

  • Building a team of experienced and highly-skilled engineers

  • Determining whether to outsource certain maintenance services

  • Performing an evaluation and survey of the transmission towers to determine condition

Having a detailed and thorough utility maintenance plan will prevent any unexpected costs that might arise during the life of a transmission tower.

 

This also applies to utility companies managing the maintenance of substations equipment. With possible decreases in business revenue during a global pandemic, utility maintenance saves money that would be spent on repairs that would have been otherwise avoidable. This money can then be allocated to other costs that might arise during the pandemic.

 

With increased budget cuts and lower revenues, it is a smart strategy to perform utility maintenance during a pandemic. For example, if you were not planning to expand the capacity of a substation in five years and this is pushed to 10 years, it means that the substations equipment should be well maintained to last the remaining five years.

 

The heightened demand on replacement parts during a global pandemic means that utility companies are better off investing in preventative maintenance of substations equipment and transmission towers. With supply chain disruption, chances are that there will be more competitive bidding for some of these replacement parts. Performing maintenance would help defray some of these costs, especially if there is no need to replace any old or worn out parts.

 

It Builds Customer Confidence and Satisfaction

 

Most people stuck at home during a global pandemic spend their days working remotely or tending to their families. You would be quite stressed if you spent days at home without power during a pandemic. For some homes, that would mean that people cannot use electric stoves, water heaters, and most household appliances. It also means that there would be no internet connectivity, placing an inconvenience on a work routine.

 

For power outages due to circumstances beyond the control of transmission tower companies, such as violent storms or failed components of electrical systems, customers might be understanding. However, if power outages result from a lack of maintenance of substations equipment, the customer rating of a utility company might be affected. Customers might decide to switch utility providers in such instances.

 

It is also possible that there will be population expansion during a global pandemic. People might move to different towns and cities, increasing the power load on substations that did not cover as many homes, previously.

 

It is important that these customers have access to a constant supply of power. By performing maintenance of substations equipment, utility companies can decrease the chances of power outages due to potentially avoidable issues.

 

It Increases the Efficiency of Power Supply

 

One of the potential changes during a global pandemic is the increased demand on certain products, which results in increased manufacturing. The local and international supply chain could be severely affected, resulting in an immediate need for essential products such as household consumables and other such items.

 

Factories and manufacturing facilities for these items would need to keep running to meet the demand and would therefore need substations providing power to operate efficiently. Maintenance of substations equipment would prevent the need for repairs that could have otherwise been avoided. Additionally, if these factories need to expand their operations, a substation with fully functional equipment would facilitate the ease of this process.

 

As the demand for power usage increases with more people staying home during a global pandemic, the amount of power flowing through the residential electric grid network also increases. With these systems constantly transmitting energy to keep up with the power demand, they heat up and eventually need to cool down.

 

Unlike the weekday-to-weekend schedule where these systems can cool down over the weekdays, the substations equipment and transmission towers are constantly running throughout the week. Routine utility maintenance is therefore required to keep these systems running efficiently.

 

It Promotes Effectiveness of Staff

 

On the flip side, it is important to have engineers, technicians or contractors perform utility maintenance during a global pandemic because it demonstrates their value in a company. With the knowledge that many homes and businesses rely upon their maintenance efforts, these staff would do their best to ensure efficient maintenance of substations equipment and transmission towers.

 

It Ensures Customer Safety

 

Utility maintenance during a global pandemic could also minimize power outages in areas where there is a need for a constant supply of power such as hospitals. With hospitals experiencing a greater load of patients and an increase in power consumption for different medical procedures, it is essential that power does not go out.

 

Maintenance of substations equipment and transmission towers could thus contribute to the smooth running of hospital operations. Hospitals might also take extra precautions to protect uninfected patients and medical staff from getting infected by other patients.

 

These precautions could range from the installation of protective HEPA filters on hospital floors to changing airflow systems. Such precautions might require a constant supply of power, and any avoidable outages could prevent further spread of disease.

 

During the hotter or colder months of a global pandemic, it would be best if power outages are avoided in areas in which vulnerable and at-risk populations are housed. This might include elderly homes or homeless shelters that rely on electric heating or cooling systems.

 

In such vulnerable populations, extreme temperatures might affect the state of their bodies, making them prone to life-threatening illnesses. Utility maintenance is important in ensuring that facilities such as these can have a consistent supply of power.

 

It Ensures Staff Safety

 

It is also important that engineers and contractors who are called in to substation or transmission tower sites perform their work with high safety standards. You can achieve this by carrying out maintenance of substations equipment and the transmission towers as often as possible, especially during a global pandemic.

 

In the long run, this would decrease the time and costs spent on rectifying safety incidents. It would also guarantee that staff such as contractors would be satisfied with working at a given substation. Hence, you can reduce the turnover of highly skilled staff who might otherwise be concerned about their safety at the workplace.

 

It Protects Utility Companies

 

Performing maintenance of substations equipment and transmission towers during a global pandemic also protects utility companies from repercussions of failed safety inspections. Inspections could easily identify issues such as potential site hazards, poor integrity of substations equipment, as well as issues with the online systems.

 

Regular utility maintenance also means that utility companies comply with state and federal regulations around safety and hazard protection. Regular utility maintenance also prevents losses resulting from damage that might be caused by factors not related to maintenance issues. A high frequency of safety incidents or equipment damage at certain substations or transmission towers can also drive up insurance costs, especially if it is related to poor maintenance.

 

Although it is difficult to tell when a global pandemic would be over, routine maintenance of substations equipment and transmission towers makes a big difference in ensuring efficient power supply.

 

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