The 2018 California “campfire” wildfire caused more than $16 billion dollars of damage and took more than 85 lives thus exposing serious flaws in our electrical infrastructure. The fire was started when a simple piece of hardware called a “C hook” failed. The failure was reported to be caused by wear from cable movement (winds) over time. This is a common problem to high power transmission cables/towers. Current countermeasures failed to detect the wear due to the high cost, dangerous, and infrequent inspections. The inspections involve linemen climbing the towers to inspect each piece of hardware, or flying by on a helicopter in an attempt to accelerate the inspections. The towers are often located in isolated locations making inspections even more difficult and cost prohibitive.
I propose a way to detect wear of the hardware remotely, without human risk, time, or interpretation. This method could be deployed “piecemeal”, or in a mass effort to prevent future “campfires”. The sensing I propose could be deployed in two fashions. The first and least expensive would be to integrate RFID “continuity” chips into the tower hardware via hardware replacement, or for RFID “sleaves” to be fitted over the hardware. When aerial crews inspect the towers and hardware, a simple flyby would inform of any broken continuity wires and register in the RFID reader aboard the helicopter. Ranges of transmission up to 30 feet are not unusual for modern chips. This approach would minimize initial expense to the cost of the RFID chips which are typically a few dollars apiece, sleaves to fit the tower hardware for dollars apiece, and RFID readers for the aircraft which typically run $2000 a piece. The second fashion for deployment would involve integrating the RFID reader into the tower instead of deploying in a helicopter. This would allow for round the clock surveillance of the hardware, but would increase the cost to thousands of dollars per tower. This would greatly reduce helicopter time / expense. Unless a “RFID” repeater could be deployed.
The continuity RFID chip wires would be integrated into the hardware by several methods. The continuity wire (approximately 1mm diameter) RFID chip would have the wire embedded just beneath the surface of the hardware in a casted, or machined groove. The depth could be adjusted for anticipated loads, or wear rates. This could be deployed into new replacement hardware, or into “sleaves” which would fit around existing hardware. When the hardware has been worn to a preselected depth, the wire is broke triggering the RFID chip. This is read by the RFID reader and relayed to the control center.
Most of the technology for this system is “off the shelf”. Relatively little development cost would be required. A fraction of the expense generated by just the “campfire”. All that is required is the political and economic will to get it done.