UK engineering and design consultancy Plextek has been working with US-based CNIguard to develop a new IoT-based system to prevent drain hole explosions, primarily caused by bad weather and flooding interacting with ageing underground power infrastructures.
For example, a mixture of melting snow and road salt can wash into manholes, leading to the electricity cables arcing.
In America’s biggest cities, hundreds of service drain holes catch fire or explode every year, with the consequences ranging from serious injury to actual fatalities. In the UK, more than 50 incidents a year have been reported, according to the Health and Safety Executive.
CNIguard’s new Sentir system – the first innovation of its type – is currently being deployed in New York by energy supplier Con Edison and being trialled by others, delivering successful results. It works by monitoring gas, stray voltages, arcing, salinity, temperature and humidity with embedded IoT sensors underground and transmitting these signals to a dashboard on a smart phone, laptop or other device by radio, cellular, PSTN, fibre optic or satellite links.
The system uses powerful cloud-based analytics to identify and predict conditions that may result in an incident so that preventative actions can be taken to avoid a potential disaster.
The Sentir system also helps to secure underground boxes, chambers, vaults, cabinets, kiosks and bunkers from intrusion, theft and vandalism with the help of visual and infra-red cameras, while providing flood warnings and other safety, environmental and quality monitoring.
“Plextek’s expertise in communication and sensor systems allowed us to accelerate our development and rapidly deploy Sentir into the market,” said Dr Edward Klinger, CEO of CNIguard. “Their work has enabled Sentir to include several different variations of environmental sensor with cellular capability powered by a reliable long-life battery or harvested power from underground cables themselves.
“Up until this technology was developed, these issues have been approached by utility companies and networks in a reactionary way, so little has been done to predict or prevent conditions which could cause explosions or stray voltage events,” added Klinger. “On top of this, global urban populations are set to rise, putting increased pressure on networks and this combined with environmental and climate factors will make these incidents even more common.”
Following the successful launch with Con Edison in New York, CNIguard is looking to work with other energy suppliers in the UK and around the world, helping to increase the safety of city street infrastructures and networks.