Home > FLIR GF306 thermal cameras help improve environmental performance at UK power company

FLIR GF306 thermal cameras help improve environmental performance at UK power company

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article image FLIR thermal cameras enable quick and accurate detection of SF6 leaks
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Thermal imaging cameras from FLIR Systems are being used by Scottish and Southern Energy Power Distribution (SSEPD) in the UK to detect leaks of sulphur hexafluoride gas (SF6) at their substations.

The SSEPD is responsible for maintaining the electricity networks supplying over 3.7 million homes and businesses across central southern England and north of the Central Belt of Scotland. The company owns one electricity transmission network and two electricity distribution networks, comprising 106,000 substations and 130,000km of overhead lines and underground cables across one third of the UK.

SF6 is an excellent insulator, used all over the world in electrical substations. Across its two distribution networks and transmission network, SSEPF has a total of 11,475 items of switchgear using SF6 gas. Switchgear is often insulated with SF6, which extinguishes sparks caused by operation of the switchgear. SF6 leaks can happen as the equipment ages, with fugitive emissions escaping through valve fittings and at joints between flanges and porcelain bushings.

SF6 is also a potent greenhouse gas, which is why SSEPD has prioritised the careful management of SF6 assets across their networks. The company regularly inspects equipment containing SF6 to prevent leaks, and act quickly when a leak is identified. FLIR thermal imaging cameras are used for the purpose, helping the SSEPD ensure safe and reliable supply of electricity to the communities it serves in Scotland and England.

Environmental impact

Over 23,000 times as potent as carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, SF6 can have a serious environmental impact in the event of a leak. Tawanda Chitifa, Project Manager at SSEPD explains that they take their safety and environmental responsibilities very seriously, with regular maintenance and protection of equipment. He adds that thermal imaging cameras from FLIR have helped them reduce the risk, because they enable quick and accurate detection of leaks.

Clearly pinpoint leaks

Though sniffers are conventionally employed as a leak detection mechanism, they are not completely effective. Sniffers can quickly detect leaks but cannot pinpoint the source, according to Tawanda Chitifa. Having learned about thermal imaging cameras that could do a better job in detecting possible leaks, SSEPD after a thorough evaluation decided to purchase two GF306 cameras from FLIR. The GF306 has a highly sensitive detector that is specifically designed to visualise SF6 gas.

Listing out the advantages of FLIR cameras, Mr Chitifa said they allowed them to work in a totally different and more efficient way. For instance, the GF306 camera allows the user to check the switchgear equipment from a safe distance, enabling them to cover a wider area. Thermal imaging also enables the user to exactly pinpoint the leak including very small leaks up to the actual source.

FLIR thermal imaging cameras are also helping SSEPD reduce downtime because the camera can be taken into the field to start the detection routine. Using the conventional method would require the switchgear equipment to be shut down with money lost for every hour of downtime.

By investing in FLIR thermal imaging cameras, SSEPD has been able to reduce its reliance on third party companies that help them detect gas leaks, repair the equipment, replace it if necessary and do gas refills. SSEPD is now using FLIR thermal imaging cameras to find the leaks themselves, saving time through quick detection and then sending the video of the leak and source to the repair company, enabling the latter to get a head start on repairs.

High-end optical gas imagers

SSEPD purchased two GF306 cameras in December 2013 with the team attending training courses organised by FLIR Systems to better understand the benefits and operation of the thermal imaging camera. During the first FLIR training course, they took the camera out in the field and identified a leak on a recently installed high-voltage circuit breaker.

Users of the GF306 at SSEPD especially value the High Sensitivity Mode (HSM), which is included in all GF-Series optical gas imaging cameras. It is an image subtraction video processing technique that effectively enhances the thermal sensitivity of the camera. The HSM feature subtracts a percentage of individual pixel signals from frames in the video stream from the subsequent frames, thus enhancing the differences between frames, and making leaks stand out more clearly in the resulting images.

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