Keeping Critical Grid Assets Up and Running, Despite COVID-19 Constraints
As millions of people across the region are confined to their home in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, the vital importance of reliable electricity is abundantly clear. The impending heat of summer only reinforces the point.
That’s why amid lockdowns, social distancing and travel restrictions, GE’s Grid Solutions field engineers are continuing to operate, maintain and upgrade utility sub-station and extension projects across the Middle East, North Africa, Turkey (MENAT) and Pakistan region.
“Across the region, we are working on projects that are critical to our customers,” said Farid Al Misleh, General Manager of GE’s Grid Services in the MENAT region.
“This work is especially important now, with Ramadan and the approaching summer peak, which likely will be higher than usual in the region this year, with people not traveling abroad and staying at home.”
Substations are essential nodes in any national grid system, helping to bring the electricity generated by power plants to consumers including homes, factories and facilities that are particularly critical during the pandemic, such as hospitals, grocery stores, pharmacies, and logistics centers.
To ensure on-time delivery of projects, Grid Solutions teams are in the field, successfully navigating COVID-19 constraints with support from government ministries, who ensure all field engineers have permission to travel freely to their job sites.
“We are providing our employees and contractors with the support they need as they work on the frontlines of keeping the electricity flowing,” said Al Misleh. “The biggest challenge for us is to be operating at construction sites, where there are a significant number of workers, and ensuring teams are working in healthy environments, so they can go back home safe.”
Safety measures include social distancing, access control to different areas of the worksite, and supplying all necessary personal protection equipment, such as masks, gloves and eye protection.
Grid Solutions also is leveraging technology to address the ban on most international travel to and from the region. While local, in-country teams have a great deal of expertise, the highly specialized nature of some substations and grid equipment means international experts have always played a role.
“Our teams can use smart helmets that have a camera, microphone and secure high-speed internet connection to share onsite data with subject-matter experts located abroad. These experts provide insights on troubleshooting and resolving issues – all without having to get on a plane,” he said.
As well, Grid Solutions makes extensive use of its remote training to cross-train employees on new equipment and technologies. “This way, we can fast-track training of our field engineers in a particular country or job site, getting them up to speed on required technical competencies.”
In addition to building local skills, Grid Solutions has been deploying grid asset performance management (APM) solutions that aim to enhance the reliability and availability of power supply through a mix of software data modeling, monitoring, and diagnostic devices, as well as onsite expertise.
GE APM had already proven its value in the region, even before COVID-19, with customers using it to enhance the reliability of their networks through monitoring and diagnostics. Leveraging Grid Solutions’ high-voltage expertise, GE APM for the grid provides customers with tools to monitor the health and maintenance status of their electrical assets.
COVID-19 is forcing the global community to rethink how work is done. GE APM is part of the solution, “providing remote data on network health, optimizing maintenance programs, and, ultimately, contributing to lower costs that result from spending based on the actual condition of the assets,” Al Misleh added.
As the region prepares for rising temperatures and works to lower infection rates, Grid Solutions will continue to bring its people, technologies and expertise to the challenge of helping utilities reliably and cost-effectively deliver electricity to customers.