The Well-Connected Lineworker
When San Patricio Electric Cooperative was founded in the late 1930s, our technology was primitive, especially by today’s standard. Crews dug holes for utility poles by hand. Then they walked the poles up into those holes until they were upright. Back then, lineworkers had to use ladders to reach equipment that needed repairs. And if you had to get in touch with the line crew, face-to-face communication was the only option.
Today, the lineworker rivals any other worker when it comes to having the necessary tech to get the job done safely, quickly and more accurately. Let’s take a look at a few of the devices behind this evolution, starting with the tablet.
Each of SPEC’s crews is equipped with a tablet, which gives them more functionality while they are on the go. A common use is to load work orders detailing the day’s projects. This can include construction drawings for how the job is to be built, the bill of materials so they know what to pull from inventory before hitting the road and system maps so they know exactly where to go. Gone are the reams of paper and cumbersome map books of the past.
Not quite as new, but equally important, are GPS units. This functionality is built into our lineworkers’ tablets. Our crews are able to access GPS coordinates to get where they need to be in a more efficient manner.
Today, our trucks are also equipped with GPS tracking. This helps our dispatching employees know which trucks are closest to an area affected by a power outage, so we can have the fastest response time possible.
One of our newest tech tools is a small infrared camera that attaches to our servicemen’s cell phone or tablet. With an infrared camera, crews can rapidly scan power lines, transformers and other equipment when searching for hot spots. A piece of distribution equipment about to fail will often get hot. While not visible to the naked eye, it shows up clear as day on the camera display. Scanning the system with an infrared camera is a fast and accurate means of spotting a problem before it becomes an outage.
SPEC is focused on providing the best reliability possible at the lowest possible price. A major aspect of reliability is getting the lights back on as soon as possible after an outage. Key in this is the outage management system, or OMS. This system builds on geo-tagged system maps (each pole has its GPS location mapped), sophisticated engineering models of the distribution system, and for maximum accuracy, an advanced metering system.
When an outage occurs, the system uses models and databases to determine the exact location of the fault and the extent of the outage. Crews can then be sent to the right spot to correct the problem. The crews closest to the outage are sent to restore power––and essential information can be accessed on the tablets, depending upon the situation.
Technology is permeating every aspect of cooperative operations, allowing SPEC to constantly improve your service. And the well-connected lineworker is at the forefront of that technical evolution.