Utilities discover versatile, cost-saving tool at IR workshop

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.”