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Hydro One keeps track of hydro poles, wires, transformers with Google maps

What’s the easiest way to keep track of 160,000 kilometres of hydro wires, 800 electric transformers and 1.8-million hydro poles?

Just Google it.

It’s what Hydro One, the province’s biggest utility is doing to manage its sprawling web of wires and equipment that serves most of rural Ontario, and some of its urban areas.

It’s not quite that simple, of course.

With software firm Space-Time Insight, the utility has developed a system that grafts its own data onto Google maps to give the company a big-picture view of its system.

From a comfortable office on Bay St., a trio of Hydro One managers is showing off the system — and Hydro One’s equipment on the ground — by zeroing in on a transformer station near Pembroke, Ont.

This time, the view is not so good.

Engineering officer Joseph Parete is manoeuvring an aerial view of the station closer and closer, until it zeroes in on a single transformer.

Parete clicks on the image, and the image sprouts an array of coloured dots. Click on any one, and information starts popping onto the screen.

Bruno Jesus takes up the commentary:

“We have two defects on this unit already,” said Jesus grimly. “The benchmark is .91 — which means there’s already double the notifications there should be.”

Anything else?

“We have Condition 4 rating on dissolved gas and oil analysis,” he said.

That means the oil inside the transformer is getting hot, and turning the oil into gas.

Is that bad?

“Really bad,” Jesus affirms.

What happens if you let it go?

“Eventually this unit may fail.”

Just how will it fail? Jesus is reluctant to use non-engineering language until his boss, vice-president Rick Stevens tells him: “Say it.”

Sometimes it’ll explode,” said Jesus, reluctantly, quickly adding: “Most often they don’t. But you’ll have an outage.”

From the transformer, the system moves on to a nearby road, lined with hydro poles.

Parete zeroes in on one of them and clicks. A display sprouts information about the material in the pole (wood) and its date of installation (1964).

There’s a code saying who made the pole, and a note that it has some woodpecker damage. The display shows it’s due to be replaced next year; a yellow plastic band indicates it’s to be climbed with caution. (Two bands would mean: Do not climb.)

It’s all very neat, but what’s the point?

Stevens said Hydro One already collected the information, but for years it was stored on paper, in different offices around the province.

The new program allows system planners to throw all the company’s physical assets into a common pool and make better decisions about what projects take priority, Stevens said.

Take the Pembroke transformer that’s not doing well. The crucial question is its ranking.

“We’ve got 300 transformer stations, we’ve got 800 transformers within those stations,” Stevens said.

“So, yeah, we’d know this one was bad. But how bad is it relative to Hanover, to Essa, to Midhurst, you name it?

“It allows us to spend the money at the right spot at the right time.”

That’s critical when the company, whose rates are regulated by the Ontario Energy Board, has to justify its spending when applying for new rates.

It also allows the company to bundle work into rational packages.

If a crew is going to work on one job, managers can see easily whether there’s other work in the same area that needs doing. If power needs to be turned off in an area for several hours, it makes sense to do multiple jobs during a single outage, rather than have multiple outages.

The system cost $ 13.5 million. But with the utility investing about $ 3 billion a year, said Stevens, if it generates even one per cent in savings through better decision-making, it pays for itself in a year.

And it doesn’t hurt to have the shareholder on side — in this case, provincial Energy Minister Chris Bentley.

“It’s a very impressive piece of work,” said Bentley in an interview. “One of the challenges with a power system is figuring out where best to make refurbishment and asset renewal decisions. Tools like this can pinpoint what really needs to be replaced, in a cost effective way.”

Does that mean hydro rates will come down?

“You did not hear me say that,” Bentley said. – Business

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