Energy could be seen as the lifeblood of a modern civilization. In 2019 a five-day blackout caused havoc in Venezuela, giving the world a taste of what would happen without it. One terrible outcome was the death of 26 patients in the country's hospitals – life-saving procedures relied on power. The energy industry is responsible for keeping all our power needs satisfied. But securing energy is no mean feat, especially since European consumers alone use around 11% of the world's energy reserves.
Challenges of securing energy
This is also big business, and comes with some quite unique challenges. The goal is to maintain constant production, transformation, and distribution of power, securing energy across the whole infrastructure – safely. These energy sites are often very large, and can be quite complex.
One big issue for securing energy sites is the amount of copper present. Copper is used throughout industrial processes because of its high ductility, malleability, thermal and electrical conductivity and resistance to corrosion. This makes it a valuable commodity. Thieves have been known to break into energy sites solely for the purpose of removing the copper and selling it. The sites can also be a focus for terrorists or extremists who choose targets with large impact.
All in all, these are sites that can really benefit from the innovation of modern technologies.
Securing energy safely
Energy sites are typically fenced and come with 'danger' warnings for those who trespass. However, the common misconception is this is 'over-exaggerated', and solely due to security. In fact, those warnings are designed to alert people to the potential hazards that can be found on these sites. For example, an electric transformer station can be managing around 75,000 volts, or more, at a given time. This has led to trespasser fatalities in the past, so is a very real threat.
Innovative solutions to this include robust perimeter security. A specific technology that comes in useful here is thermal imaging. A common set-up includes Bi-spectrum Thermal Cameras. They can detect trespassers' heat signatures even in the lowest visibility. The visual lens of the camera, on the other hand, can provide clarification and verification. A PTZ camera is often added, to give operators the ability to focus on a particular area in detail quickly. They can also follow 'intruders' as they move through the area. Another device to consider in this situation is a loudspeaker which can be connected to the system. This can be used to sound a particular recorded warning message, or even for the operator to communicate live.
Securing energy in-site
Energy sites can be large, encompassing a number of buildings and areas housing all kinds of equipment. A range of cameras, alarm devices, and radar detectors can be used throughout the site to provide flexible and efficient security 'in-site'.
Safety and sensitivity concerns mean each building often needs access control measures. Using card, fingerprint, or even facial scans, authorized personnel can have easy access. An intercom can also be installed so that a guard can check the validity of an entrance request. They are even able to open the door remotely.
All of these separate devices can be brought together and managed in one place. Using centralized VMS tools, like Hikvision's HikCentral, operators can see the feeds from all cameras and manage the whole system. There are remote benefits too. In some cases, security managers can monitor sites from another location. Access to a mobile app can also provide a handy monitoring tool, even when personnel are on the move.
A crucial part of keeping energy flowing is to keep on top of maintenance. This can be a very time-consuming task – for example, there are an estimated 10 million km of power lines in Europe. Imagine how long it would take for an engineer to climb up a power cable pole to check the connectors on every one!
Thermal technology can come to their rescue. Cameras can be installed to monitor the temperature of various key parts of the site. Any temperature anomaly can be flagged to an operator immediately. This technology can also have a dual role – possibly maintenance in the day, and security at night. For these reasons, often thermography is used as a standard method of quickly finding issues throughout an energy site.
A handheld thermography camera can be used to find problems traditional methods can't. The nature of a small portable handheld camera means that it can be used in more places than larger devices. This includes all those small awkward spaces that could normally involve removing obstacles to access.
Actually, the part where this technology really comes into its own is in predictive maintenance. If issues can be identified before they become a problem, it saves a great deal of time, effort and money. It also means that the power flow is less likely to be interrupted, since repairs can be planned. This really is a great example of 'forewarned is forearmed'.
Downtime for an energy provider impacts more than their business. It can have a dramatic knock-on effect to the energy network, depending on which part of the infrastructure is involved. Securing a potentially dangerous site comes with challenges, but innovative technology is a boon to security managers. It can now monitor a perimeter in the darkest night, and it can monitor large areas and track individuals. It can even give the right people access to the right areas. All this together provides peace of mind to those that strive to keep our modern world lit and functional.
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