Augmented Reality for Electrical Utilities

A utility field technician’s day is filled with frequent stopping and starting to access and assess the distribution system—and the utility bears the burden of what happens when resources get stretched too thin. How can it make sure that the right data is available to the right person, in the right format and at the right time and place in order for the insights from that data to provide practical value? One way is to bring augmented reality (AR) tools to the utility’s field force. By equipping field personnel with AR tools, utilities can streamline things like asset health assessments, service documentation review, repair requirement summaries, repair qualification activities, work order prioritization, location routing and more.

One example of using AR to improve efficiencies is demonstrated in a 2017 proof of concept between the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and Duke Energy which tested the use of augmented reality in assessing storm damage. In the project, field workers wore a heads-up display (HUD) units incorporating a monocular screen that provided key information to keep assessments accurate and consistent. This screen overlaid information on the user’s field of view, enhancing their capability to real-time visualize actionable date on that subject matter at hand. The field crews were very positive about their experience and Duke Energy calculated that for a typical, 4-day outage impacting 250,000 customers, using AR would save around 12 hours of restoration time—or $8.25M for customers with an average power consumption of 900kWh per month.

Another way AR could be used is for general servicing and repair. Augmented reality would be able to overlay key performance data into the field of vision for a service technician allowing him or her to immediately assess the health of an asset. For example, being able to see the load, temperature and oil level of a transformer simply by looking up at it with an AR device would expedite identification of any issues. This AR capability would instantly allow a field technician to prioritize service actions against multiple assets within their field of view, all without opening, powering and inquiring using traditional keyboard centric field devices.

It’s important to note, according to EPRI’s 2018 literature review of human factors issues in the Electric Power Industry, there is still a shortage of human factors and occupational safety research for AR devices. Therefore, guidelines for the appropriate amount of time for safe and effective AR usage are lacking. This being true, as the technology progresses and electric utilities continue to experiment with using it more information will become available and, similar to other adjacent markets, we anticipate pick-up in adoption of this exciting user interface methodology.