Equipment Loan champion retires

Western is pleased to recognize Darrel Iverson of the University of North Dakota You are leaving Western's site. as a pioneer in the use of infrared, or IR, thermography in the early detection and prevention of electric power system problems.

University of North Dakota Electrician Darrel Iverson shows off the Competitive Edge award he received from Western's Energy Services in 2003. Iverson is retiring in January.
University of North Dakota Electrician Darrel Iverson shows off the Competitive Edge award he received from Western’s Energy Services in 2003. Iverson is retiring in January.

First in line
Iverson, who retires in January as an electrician with UND Facilities Management, began using the IR cameras at the university nearly three decades ago to improve the reliability of its power distribution system. Customer Service Representative Jim Bach of Western’s Upper Great Plains regional office first introduced Iverson to the Equipment Loan Program in 1986. “The first time we saw an IR camera, we weren’t sure what to do with it,” recalled Iverson. “Then Western held a training class in Sioux City, Iowa.”

The facilities electrician quickly recognized the technology’s potential and became a member of the “First Dozen” club—customers who were among the first to borrow from the Equipment Loan Program. “As far as I’m concerned, when it comes to an electrical system, the IR camera is a godsend,” Iverson declared. “If you are not doing IR inspections, you are not taking care of your system.”

Problem solver
Iverson continued to keep up with the changing technology, from early cameras that filled two large suitcase-sized shipping boxes with necessary accessories to today’s thumb-sized cameras that attach to smart phones.

Throughout the years, each time Iverson borrowed a cameras from Western, he kept refining his inspection technique to protect his crew and the equipment. “One of the great things about the Equipment Loan Program is that every time Western got a new camera, I got to learn about new technology and share that with coworkers,” he said.

Equipment Loan Manager Gary Hoffmann recalled one particularly ingenious solution to inspecting the confined spaces of underground vaults and tunnels. “Checking electrical distribution systems in those places is potentially hazardous for workers because of the dangers of toxic fumes, flooding or fires,” said Hoffmann.

Iverson created a version of a bucket camera by mounting an infrared camera with a remote control inside a bucket with a hole in it for the lens. After testing the spaces to be inspected for toxic fumes that could cause an explosion, the inspector lowered the camera into the space by a rope tied to the bucket handle. The improvised rigging allowed the inspector to take pictures of vaults and tunnels without having to physically enter them.

“Darrel told me once that he tied the other end of the rope around his back and shoulder. If he accidently dropped the camera into the vault, he wanted the rope to pull him in with it,” said Hoffmann. “That way, he wouldn’t have to explain to us how he smashed our camera.”

Educator
Iverson often provided Energy Services with copies of reports on potential problems to share with other Western customers so that they could learn from his experiences. His desire to educate led him to persuade the university to sponsor one of Western’s infrared training workshops in Grand Forks in 2011. The utility representatives who attended the workshop learned a great deal about the uses of IR cameras and inspection techniques from Iverson’s extensive experience.

In 2003, the Energy Services program recognized his dedication with Western’s Competitive Edge award for commitment to specific energy-efficiency or renewable energy projects or programs.

Iverson has worked with many Equipment Loan managers—Gary Hoffmann, Rich Burnkrant, Jim Bach—and, “They have all been great to work with,” he said.

The Energy Services staff feels the same way about Iverson. He was a true ambassador for the Energy Services program and for best practices in energy use. We have enjoyed working with him and learning from him with each loan. Darrel Iverson is the kind of person who makes us look forward to doing our jobs every day.

Free webinars cover thermography basics, more

(Photo by Infrared Training Center)
(Photo by Infrared Training Center)

For anyone who is new to IR cameras or who needs a refresher, the Infrared Training Center (ITC) is offering free live and on-demand web courses.

These educational sessions provide a convenient and informative way to learn more about one of the most useful and versatile tools in an energy manager’s kit. Topics cover tips and tricks (presented July 22, access it from the on-demand list), thermography basics, safety, software basics, capturing and interpreting thermal images and much more. Each webinar is 45 to 60 minutes in length, and the live events include a question and answer session with participants. The speakers are top industry experts.

Need to know
These events are presented from locations around the world, so the start time given is the local time. Be sure to double-check the start time and time zone when registering. If the webinar occurs too far away from your time zone, you may have to wait for the on-demand recording. See ITC’s webinar FAQs to learn more about scheduling and system requirements.

Many training options
In addition to the webinars, ITC also offers online course packages and four-day regional training courses for certification.

For busy novices to energy auditing and diagnostics, ITC webinars can provide a valuable foundation for your infrared inspections. The price is right for experienced technician who just want to brush up on the basics and maybe pick up some new tricks. There is always something more to learn about the world of thermography, and no better way to do it than from your our desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone—for free!

(Editor’s note: If you haven’t yet discovered infrared cameras and all they can do for a utility, contact our Equipment Loan Program, 720-962-7420, to learn more.)

Source: Infrared Thermography Center, 7/16/15

Proactive infrared inspections keep ED2 customers cool in desert summer

(Artwork by Electrical District No. 2)
(Artwork by Electrical District No. 2)

Keeping the lights on is a year-round responsibility for power providers, one that sometimes means braving extreme weather to make sure the distribution system can handle the strain of a peak. Whether it is January in central Minnesota or July in Arizona, you will find Western customers inspecting their lines with infrared (IR) cameras borrowed from our Equipment Loan Program to protect their customers from potential power outages.

Electrical District No. 2 Redirecting to a non-government site (ED2) in Phoenix, Arizona, is as “summer-peaking” a utility as they come, and each year since 2001, the maintenance department has borrowed an IR camera. “The loans probably go back further to the ‘pre-database’ times,” observed Equipment Loan Manager Gary Hoffmann. “Some of our customers are as consistent as the seasons when it comes to scheduling loans, and ED2 is one of those utilities.”

The linemen of Electrical District No. 2 in Pinal County, Arizona, are dedicated to the thorough inspection of their electrical system. (Photo by Electrical District No. 2)
The linemen of Electrical District No. 2 in Pinal County, Arizona, are dedicated to the thorough annual inspection of their electrical system. (Photo by Electrical District No. 2)

“Yearly inspections keep the malfunctions from piling up,” acknowledged Lineman Steve Heet, who recently took over inspections from Lineman Dewayne Hill.

Heet borrowed the Mikron 7550 thermal camera to inspect all of ED2’s overhead lines. “We pay special attention to the capacitor banks, regulator banks and switches, but basically, we are looking at everything,” he explained. “Underground transformers and bushings are on our schedule this year, too,” Heet added.

Crews take out the camera at night and inspect the line from a service truck, recording hot spots to be repaired during the day. And how hot do hot spots get in the desert in the summer? “I think 340 degrees is our record,” said Heet. “Typical hot spots are around 180 degrees and above.”

A recent inspection uncovered a couple very hot substation blades that could have resulted in 1,000 customers losing power. “A short, scheduled outage for repairs—even in the summer—is much easier for customers to manage than an unexpected event,” Heet stated.

Avoiding surprises is, after all, the whole point of a proactive maintenance program. Don’t wait for the next hot summer day to find out if your system is cooking up an unpleasant surprise. Contact the Equipment Loan Program at 720-9627420 to borrow an infrared camera. A few minutes of quick inspection can save hours of headaches for you and your customers.

Irrigation energy efficiency the topic of free webinar

The next Lunchtime Webinar from Clean Energy AmbassadorsRedirecting to a non-government site (CEA) will be of special interest to any utility with a significant irrigation load. Join CEA on Sept. 23 for Irrigation Energy Efficiency—Your Technical and Financing Plan to learn about measures that can be a tremendous source of water, energy and cost savings for agricultural customers and the utilities that serve them.

The webinar will offer the latest information on irrigation and livestock pump efficiency measures, including pump testing and improved system design. Presentations will cover examples from the successful irrigation efficiency program at Nebraska Public Power DistrictRedirecting to a non-government site.  A speaker from the Department of Agriculture will be on hand to offer advice on how REAP grants and loans can help achieve cost-saving improvements. You will also get details about free pump-testing resources available through Western for regional customers.

Utilities, local agencies, individual agriculture customers and those in related businesses will find this session useful.

CEA’s monthly Lunchtime Webinar series explores issues that affect consumer-owned power providers serving rural areas and small towns in the Great Plains and the West. The hour-long events generally take place on the fourth Tuesday of the month at 12 p.m. Central time. The focus is on cost-effective, easy-to-implement strategies to help utilities save money and build customer relationships. Discussions are lively and informal opportunities to share ideas with peers. Recordings of past webinars are available on the CEA website.

If you have any questions, please contact Emily Stark at 406-969-1040.

Stearns Electric crew braves cold, inspects distribution system

[All photos by Stearns Electric Association.]

Western customers are the best when it comes to keeping the lights on, rain or shine, as the Stearns Electric AssociationRedirecting to a non-government site maintenance crew demonstrates.

Each winter, Operations and Maintenance Supervisor Glen Kemper borrows an infrared (IR) camera from our Equipment Loan Program and leads his crew on an inspection of one-fifth of the cooperative’s distribution system. January may not seem like the ideal time to be doing outdoor maintenance in central Minnesota, but, “That’s when the crews are free,” acknowledged Kemper.

Junction boxes house energized conductors, which provide above-ground access points to the underground electrical distribution system. Stearns maintenance crews often have to dig the boxes out of the snow to perform their annual IR inspections.
Junction boxes house energized conductors, which provide above-ground access points to the underground electrical distribution system. Stearns maintenance crews often have to dig the boxes out of the snow to perform their annual IR inspections.

The Rural Utility ServiceRedirecting to a non-government site and National Electric Safety Code requires that Stearns inspect its underground system regularly, a practice that gives the utility a chance to find and repair deteriorated connections that could cause outages if they failed. Kemper chose the Flir E60 for this year’s inspection because it is lightweight and easy to use. “And you don’t have to look through the viewfinder,” he added.

“The viewing screen on the Flir E60 can be manipulated so you can see it from different angles,” explained Gary Hoffmann, program manager for Western’s Equipment Loan Program. “The camera is WiFi-enabled too, so users can see the image on their pads or smartphones.”

Those features allow the crew to set up shots in the tight spaces of the junction boxes and take a few quick shots of “elbow” connectors that terminate the energized conductors. “Then we close up the box and move on to the next one. It takes less than a minute, so we aren’t exposed to the elements for that long,” Kemper pointed out. “Except for the cold weather, it’s a piece of cake.”

This infrared photo reveals the excess heat coming from a loose elbow connection. If the connection was allowed to burn through completely, all Stearns members served by that connection would lose power.
This infrared photo reveals the excess heat coming from a loose elbow connection. If the connection was allowed to burn through completely, all Stearns members served by that connection would lose power.

A good thing, too, since the temperature hit a low of 15 below zero with 20 mph winds during the most recent inspection. One picture of a hot connection in a three-phase module shows a temperature range of minus 6 degrees for the hottest spot, where the connection has deteriorated, to 40 below for the coldest spot. “That low temperature might be a reflection of an object rather than the actual object, but it is all cold,” declared Hoffmann.

The inspection turned up about a dozen elbows or three-point connectors that needed to be replaced. Kemper noted, “Typically, there is a lot of heat load on the system in the winter, so it is easier to see where the problems are.”

This failing elbow arrester was one of several the maintenance crew found and replaced during their inspection. Elbow arresters dissipate excess voltage, typically caused by lightning strikes, before the surge reaches a customer’s home where it might damage electric appliances.
This failing elbow arrester was one of several the maintenance crew found and replaced during their inspection. Elbow arresters dissipate excess voltage, typically caused by lightning strikes, before the surge reaches a customer’s home where it might damage electric appliances.

In addition to regularly borrowing IR cameras from the Equipment Loan Program, Stearns also borrowed the fuel cell demonstration kit. “We set up at an annual member meeting.” Kemper recalled. He added that the staff experimented with the educational display in the office too, but the co-op has no plans at this time to add fuel cell generation to its mix.

The distribution cooperative will continue to borrow the cameras for its annual system inspection and other maintenance projects, however. Members rely on Stearns Electric to keep their homes comfortable throughout the year, and Kemper knows he can rely on Western’s Equipment Loan Program to provide specialized tools to keep his system in good repair.