It is no secret that we at Energy Services are great believers in the value of this tool to utilities. Infrared cameras can help detect line loss and substation malfunctions, and they play an important role in successful home energy audit programs. Gary Hoffmann of Western’s Equipment Loan Program will join camera manufacturers to discuss how IR technologies can improve your operations and customer service. You’ll also find out about opportunities to for Clean Energy Ambassadors IR workshops in your area.
Register for this free event today. Please contact Stevie Moe at 406-969-1040 if you have any questions.
Join Clean Energy Ambassadors on the third Tuesday of each month for candid, informal discussions on the needs of consumer-owned utilities. Webinars are held from 12-1 p.m. Central time (11 a.m.-12 p.m. Mountain).
Educational displays are among the most requested items in the Equipment Loan Program. Utilities set them up at customer meetings, classrooms and community events to open up conversations with their ratepayers, explained Equipment Loan Manager Gary Hoffmann. “For example, the lighting display shows consumers how much energy they can save simply by replacing a conventional light with a compact fluorescent light,” he said.
The fuel cell demonstration is good for illustrating complex ideas about energy production and storage,” continued Hoffmann. “Utilities are more likely to borrow that display to take to a school.”
Tools to help community That’s what Wheatland REA Member Services Manager Al Teel had in mind when he asked to borrow the program’s weather station and soil monitoring equipment last spring. “It’s a good way to help out the science teachers in our territory,” Teel observed.
Wheatland REA is a frequent borrower, and Teel said he is always on the lookout for equipment that can help members. “I’ll call Gary and ask him what’s new, what haven’t I tried yet. He was very enthusiastic about the weather stations,” recalled Teel.
There is a lot to get excited about. Some educational displays collect only one type of data, like anemometers with wind speed. The weather station measures wind speed, solar index, ultraviolet levels, precipitation and soil temperature and moisture content. “Instead of just evaluating renewables potential, the weather station gives a complete profile of the area’s weather,” said Hoffmann.
For residents in a largely agricultural economy, that information is relevant to their daily lives, Teel observed. “It’s more than a science project—students will be collecting data that has real value to the three communities,” he said.
Loads of useful data The Wheatland High weather station went into the school’s science “ecology area,” an unused area students turned into an outdoor lab with fish ponds and gardens. From there, the equipment wirelessly transmitted data throughout the summer to the science classrooms at the south end of the building. Students will download the information when they return in the fall. “A tornado went through the area the day after we installed the weather station,” said Teel. “It will be interesting to see what it recorded.”
The schools have big plans for the data their students will be collecting. One teacher wants to start a workbook that will become a weather history for future classes to use as a reference. The solar and wind data might one day help the schools apply for grants for renewable energy systems, Teel suggested.
The students will also be working on interfacing the weather stations with the district administrative building’s public website. Eventually, anyone in the area who might need weather history—the highway department, farmers, teachers and students at other schools—will be able to access real-time data on local weather.
The value of the weather stations as a teaching tool has caught on with teachers at other schools in the Platte County School District. “Glendo School is the latest to set up a weather station,” said Teel. “The town is about the same distance north from Wheatland as Chugwater is south, so now we have weather data for a contiguous portion of our territory.”
Co-op, Western benefit too There are lots of community-minded reasons for power providers to borrow educational displays from Western, but there are benefits for the utilities as well.
Wheatland REA will be able to use the real-time data to schedule maintenance crews during weather events. Teel admitted that students, teachers and administrators involved in the weather station project are more likely to be open to less “exciting,” but far more vital electric safety demonstrations.
In the long term, teaching future consumers about how weather affects agriculture and energy use prepares them to make sound decisions about both. “It’s always good for a co-op to work with well-informed members,” he added.
Just as utilities borrow Western’s equipment to build relationships with their communities, we use the loan program to bond with our customers. Hoffmann, who traveled up to Wyoming to assist with installing the weather stations, said, “Meeting with our customers and their members gives us the chance to learn more about their needs and their experiences with the equipment they borrow. That feedback helps us build our tool library and identify training needs.”
He added praise for the students, teachers and Wheatland REA employees who did so much preparation for the project. “The bottom line is Western is just a small part of a really awesome team.”
Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the March 2012 Energy Services Bulletin.
It is no secret that we here at Energy Services are big fans of the infrared (IR) camera—our Equipment Loan Program offers several models, the Energy Services Bulletin covers stories about its innovative uses and we urge customers who are not familiar with the technology to learn about it. You will have that opportunity April 5 at Infrared Thermography: Hands-On Training for Utility Systems and Customer Service Applications (link to flyer), in Billings, Mont.
Western is co-sponsoring the event with Montana State University at Billings (MSUB) College of Technology and Clean Energy Ambassadors (CEA). The agenda targets utility professionals who are interested in performing building audits, as well as those who are looking for a more efficient way to maintain their electrical systems. The cost to attend is only $125 because “We wanted to make sure that the workshop is affordable,” explained CEA Program Manager Stevie Moe. “The IR camera is such a versatile tool, it can save money on utility operations and program development. That can really benefit smaller utilities in particular,” she added.
The registration fee includes class materials as well as meals and snacks for one day. “People will need their energy because they’ll be doing more than just sitting and listening to presentations,” said Equipment Loan Manager Gary Hoffmann.
What to expect Hoffmann will be at the workshop to introduce participants to IR cameras available through the Equipment Loan Program. Our equipment library recently added two new cameras with more capabilities. The cameras’ higher resolution enables users to spot smaller problems on transmission lines and substations from greater distances. Both models take digital and infrared pictures that can be easily downloaded to show to maintenance personnel and facility owners.
After participants get a look at the cameras, representatives from FLIR and Fluke will talk about how to use them. One case study will show how IR cameras were used to detect line and substation loss, and a second presentation will focus on the equipments’ industrial applications.
Hands-on experience But the real fun comes after lunch, when participants break off into groups for field training. Moe recalled that some utilities brought their own IR cameras to the workshop in North Dakota last year. “But those were older models,” she said. “I think everyone really enjoyed getting to ‘play’ with the latest technology the manufacturers provided.”
The field training took participants around the University of North Dakota campus to inspect the electrical system, heating plant, dorm rooms and a substation. “It was a pretty fast-paced session,” said Hoffmann. “The groups were made up of only two or three people, so everybody got a chance to use the different cameras in different situations.”
The day will conclude with the groups downloading images, running reports and interpreting the pictures they shot in the field. Participants will come away with not only a working knowledge of camera operation and data interpretation, but also with ideas for integrating IR cameras into utility programs.
Why attend? Those who went to the 2011 IR camera workshop found plenty of ways to apply what they learned, said Moe. “Participants told us about using the cameras on their power systems, and on utility buildings as well as on customers’ homes and businesses,” she noted. “Some utilities have found that IR images are great tools to educate consumers about weatherization.”
The workshop is also intended to educate the next generation of utility professionals. MSUB is hosting the event in hopes that students from its industrial and energy programs will attend. “The students at MSUB are interested in science and technology, but they may not have thought about working in the utility industry,” said Moe. “This is a good opportunity to reach out to them by letting them work with the technology currently being used in the industry.”
And for those already working in the industry, the technology is becoming more accessible every year. “IR cameras keep getting less expensive, smaller, lighter and simpler to use,” Hoffmann said. “Utilities don’t have an excuse for not checking out the equipment and seeing what it can do for them.”