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RFID Markers, GPS Data Track Underground Lines in India

Tata Power Delhi Distribution Ltd. is cutting in half the amount of time for each maintenance visit to its underground lines, thanks to UHF RFID readers built into handheld devices, along with GPS to link underground markers with a specific geographic location.
By Claire Swedberg
Mar 19, 2018

Indian power company Tata Power Delhi Distribution Ltd. (TPDDL) has launched an RFID- and GPS-based system to gain visibility into the locations of underground cable joints for workers searching for faults. The technology, consisting of active ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID marker tags attached to joints, as well as handheld readers in the hands of personnel, was deployed across 1,200 cable routes in a phased approach beginning in 2015.

Since the system was installed, the company says, it has not only saved time for maintenance workers, but also ensured that any faults are located and corrected quickly. In fact, says Sunil Singh, TPDDL's chief operations and safety officer, since the technology was taken live, it has reduced the average time required to locate a cable splice from 90 minutes down to 45 only minutes.

TPDDL's Sunil Singh
TPDDL, a joint venture between the National Capital Territory of Delhi government and Tata Power Co., serves 1.8 million people in the North and Northwest portions of Delhi throughout an area measuring 510 square kilometers (197 square miles). The joint venture has an underground network of 3,100 kilometers (1,197 square miles) of 66-, 33- and 11-kilovolt cables, amounting to approximately 15,000 cable routes altogether. Managing those underground cables is a matter of regular maintenance, Singh explains, and occasionally responses to power failures.

Preventing failures is one of TPDDL's key goals, however. Any time there's a failure of this critical power delivery caused by an asset problem, the company says, the results can be customer dissatisfaction and a loss of revenue due to unserved energy, as well as high expenditures based on repair and replacement.

The cross-linked polyethylene (XLPE) underground cables are ideally maintenance-free equipment, Singh says. "Still, we carry out signature analysis of the underground network to monitor and diagnose the health of the cables," he states. In the event of a problem, the fault point is located using "fault location equipment" sensors on site. The soil is then excavated to identify the fault, and joints are thereby made in cables for restoration.

This kind of work is more challenging in a population-dense urban environment. Right-of-way (ROW) permission is required for excavation, Singh says. Additionally, he states, "Repairing and new laying of cables are really difficult and time-consuming." As cable joints age, there are higher failure rates requiring more servicing efforts. "Fault location in underground cable is a tedious job which requires high skill and considerable amount of time, due to unidentified cable routes especially for older cables."

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