Megger helps Nebraska public power district to clear cable replacement backlog

Electrical Tester – 28 November 2018

Author: Henning Oetjen, Product Manger VF

With the backlog in its cable replacement programme proving difficult to clear, Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) decided to evaluate a new strategy based on testing its cable network with Megger equipment. This approach made it possible for NPPD to quickly clear the backlog by concentrating budget and resources on only those cables where the risk of imminent failure was high.

Until recently, NPPD operated a cable replacement programme based on two criteria. The first of these criteria was faults – if more than three faults occurred on a cable, it was deemed in need of replacement. Tight budgets however, meant that in practice the utility could usually replace only the faulted section rather than the whole cable. NPPD’s second criterion for cable replacement was age, with the oldest cables, many of which have been in service for more than 25 years, scheduled for replacement first. Once again, tight budgets made progress slow.

The overall result was that NPPD had a backlog of cables that needed attention. On the other hand, however, replacing the older cables on the basis of their age alone meant cables that still had useful working life were being taken out of  service unnecessarily.

To address these issues, the engineers at NPPD decided to investigate the possibility of setting up a more efficient – and cost-effective – cable replacement programme based on routine testing to assess the true condition of its cable network. The engineers considered both partial discharge (PD) and Tan Delta (TD) testing but in this instance decided that the latter would be more straightforward to apply in the field, and that the results would be easier to interpret.

The NPPD engineers faced another challenge, however, as the IEEE guidelines relating to TD testing provide no insights into how the results should be used to decide whether or not a cable needs replacing. In response, they devised a simple but powerful algorithm that would distil the test results down into a single number that could be used as a go/no-go replacement criterion. Essentially, if after testing a cable, this number turns out to be 3.0 or greater, the cable is replaced; otherwise it is allowed to remain in service.

All of the test results are loaded into a geographical information system (GIS) so that the engineers  can see immediately which sections of the network have been tested, and which cables need to be replaced.

To carry out the test, the NPPD engineers chose a Megger VLF45 Sine Wave 45 kV test set with integrated Tan Delta facilities. The main factors that influenced this choice included the compact construction of the VLF45, its Tan Delta functionality, its ability to test up 35 kV class  cables and the excellent technical support received from Megger.

Other benefits of the VLF45 are that it incorporates earth loop monitoring and automatic discharge functionality to maximise user safety. Also, it needs no external computer, which makes it particularly convenient for use in the field. A further important consideration that influenced the choice of instrument was ease of use, as several different maintenance crews are involved with cable testing across the state, and all would need training in how to use it safely and efficiently.

NPPD purchased one instrument and has now used it extensively to investigate the condition of its state-wide cable network. The engineers and technicians working with the instrument have found it to be intuitive in operation, with a simple test set up and results that are easy to analyse and interpret. And those results have proved invaluable, as they have revealed that 70% of the cables NPPD has tested need no further action. This has allowed the utility to concentrate its resources on the cables that are most likely to give problems.

By moving to a cable replacement programme based on actual test results produced by a Megger VLF45 Sine Wave 45 kV test set rather than relying on arbitrary age criteria, NPPD has now eliminated its cable replacement backlog. Additional benefits are that it has also been able to improve its System Average Interruption Duration Index (SAIDI) and System Average Interruption Frequency  Index (SAIFI) ratings, both of which are important and widely monitored indicators of a power utility’s performance.

Cable faults are a major headache for all power utilities, especially in those parts of the world where much of the supply network is  approaching or, in some cases has already exceeded, its original design lifetime. Wholesale replacement of aged cables to address this issue is rarely an option, so a rational and well-structured replacement programme is essential. As NPPD has discovered, testing with a Megger VLF45 Sine Wave 45 kV test set provides a cost-effective and easy-to-implement foundation on which to build such a programme.