Hydroelectric Gets Updated with IoT and Wireless

Published on Tuesday, 27 June 2017

“Hydroelectric plants now supply 70% of the renewable energy in the world, guaranteeing clean energy to over a billion people in 152 countries.”

Numbers and trends reveal that hydroelectric offers an essential contribution to the decarbonisation of the electricity and energy sectors, and not just because of the mega dams expected in in China, India and Brazil or the great development potential in Africa.

Mature markets, where this is no more room for large plant projects and common efforts are focused on efficiency and performance, are turning out to be an important laboratory for the experimentation of innovative solutions capable of channelling the opportunities offered by so-called smart technologies.

“At EGP, we’ve launched various experimentation projects to apply IoT and digital solutions to the activities of Operation & Maintenance in the plants.”

On EGP’s webpage, we told the story of the Wireless Sensors for Hydro monitoring (WISY) project, carried out between Italy and Chile, which develops a dense network of wireless sensors capable of collecting, analysing and transmitting all information on the status of a hydroelectric plant in real time, through the paradigm of the IoT, which puts objects, places, data and information together in a network.

We’ve recently concluded the testing phase of the “CLOSER - Communication in tunnels” project which in just a few weeks has shown results that are driving us to develop the idea beyond the prototype phase.

Open innovation goes into the tunnel

We launched the CLOSER project with the aim of developing a portable system of communication to support our teams that regularly carry out inspections of hydroelectric derivation tunnels, going by foot down tunnels excavated in rock of various sizes (from 1 to 5 metres in width) and lengths that can exceed ten kilometres.

These unique inspections do not allow for the installation of a fixed apparatus of communication – the tunnels are usually full of water under pressure – and the working conditions of the interventions involve constraints both in terms of safety of the personnel and of managing the activity in real time.

We were searching for a solution that could guarantee constant two-way communication between the internal inspection team and the people in a fixed position at the access points. Not finding a satisfactory solution on the market, we chose a path that’s becoming more common for EGP: open innovation, a mix between our decades-long experience gained on the ground around the world and the “disruptive” creativity of innovators outside our company.

A success that is ready for use

The involvement of Enel Green Power Innovation Hydro and the use of Innocentive, an international online platform for solving complex problems, allowed us to get to testing a solution based on a commercial Wi-Fi apparatus that works on the 5 GHz band.

After several tests done in controlled environments, we used the prototype during a real inspection in the tunnel Pieve di Cadore – Vajont (Italy) in February. During this operation, the solution allowed us to maintain live voice and data contact with the workers up to 3.5 km into the pipe, thereby ensuring real-time updates on the status of the work and support in case of safety issues.

The success of CLOSER’s tunnel tests prompted us to put together a kit to assign to all the working teams engaged in similar activities, so as to increase safety for the O&M personnel, the speed of the work done and operational efficiency.