Fiber optic sensors could one day catch thieves who steal electricity and materials from overhead power lines. The UK firm Bandweaver recently demonstrated a distributed acoustic sensing (DAS) system that detects invasion and interruption on power lines. The system does this by using back-scattering effects along an optical fiber.
The Cost of Tampering
A major global problem is tampering and theft from power lines. In fact, this activity costs the electric industry an estimated $96 billion a year. Tampering can also interrupt power supplies and lead to operating losses for power companies and national grids.
Detecting and identifying theft when it first happens is the key to solving this problem. The power industry generally sees current solutions as time consuming, inefficient and expensive.
Working with Dominican Republic power company ELESUR and an infrastructure firm, Bandweaver installed its system at an ELESUR sub-station in Santo Domingo. The team hoped to show how the photonics technology could locate and identify any tampering with overhead lighting and distribution poles connected to a fiber optic cable. They believed that by continually watching just one optical fiber, the system could monitor the entire route for real-time threats 24/7 using existing fiber optic cables.
The team installed the system and waited. When power company employees created different types of disturbances at random power line locations, the DAS system detected and located each problem.
Bandweaver believes that the demonstration’s success proved the ability of its system. The DAS system identified the exact location of each incident and then sent specific information to security systems and alerted company staff.
Possibly the greatest value of the system is that it alerted the power company when a threat began. This “heads up” notification could help companies act before major damage is done. And this capability could help to reduce costs and improve system operations.