Hydro Québec electrifies testing

By Kathleen Davis, Associate Editor

How do you prepare for Mother Nature?

If you work at Hydro QuébecLaboratories, that answer is simple: You test. You run downed lines simulations; you create theories. You develop models.

It seems that testing transmission and distribution (T&D) equipment before the catastrophe occurs may be one of the best ways to ensure stability, and laboratories like Hydro Québeccan cover a broad band of needs.

What’s in the bag

“[We] offer the industry-utilities and manufacturers-a complete range of testing services for T&D systems rated anywhere from 15 to 800 kV, including HVDC,” said Marcel Fortin, an engineer with Hydro Québec’s Laboratoire Grande Puissance (High Power Laboratory) in Varennes, explaining the company’s growing influence.

In fact, Hydro Québec offers equipment-testing services through three specific laboratories: high power, high voltage and mechanical and thermo-mechanical.

Fortin continued, “These labs offer fully integrated testing services for any apparatus.”

The list of those tests is extensive: load and fault current make and break tests, short-circuit withstand tests, mechanical operation tests, mechanical loading tests, icing tests, vibration and Aeolian vibration tests, aging tests (for cables and cable accessories, connectors, batteries, stator bars and the like), checks for hydraulic systems, dielectric withstand tests, partial discharge measurements, insulation contamination tests and even insulation aging tests.

Photo courtesy of Hydro Québec
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Labs like Hydro Québec have even taken testing one step farther: Trying to simulate varying weather conditions, like the ones that may have caused those downed power lines in Bakersfield.

“We operate many climate rooms-both fixed and mobile-that allow us to perform most of these tests at controlled temperatures that may range from +65 to -65 degrees Celsius,” Fortin noted.

Money makes the test go round

But why should a utility do so much testing? Why have a company like Hydro Québec drag out a mobile laboratory to measure switching surges or power quality? Is there a real need to analyze apparatus performance, to do arc modeling and test for arcing faults, to measure mechanism operation and breaking capacity?

Indeed there is, and it can be summed up in one word: deregulation.

“Growing concerns by the clients and pressure emerging from deregulation will force utilities to offer a better quality of service, not only on the service continuity basis-reliability of the system and its components-but also on the power quality basis-stability of voltage and frequency and harmonics,” Fortin commented.

So, to ensure that your customer doesn’t choose another supplier because you can’t offer a stable, uniform product, you need to test all of your equipment: from the moment that kW is generated to the moment it’s used-and every moment in between.

Lowering or mitigating voltage drops or sags is one of the major topics to pop up from deregulation, according to Fortin, and it’s one that Hydro Québec is working hard to blanket. For the utility, this means a lot more money spent testing; for Hydro Québec Laboratories, this means a lot more work. But they are expanding to meet the client base that deregulation has brought them.

“Our laboratories are poised at the leading edge of the North American market,” claimed Fortin, and they’re growing like a weed.

An expansive offering

Hydro Québec, the utility, is the main client of its laboratory. Serving all of Canada’s Québec province (a territory of 1.6 million square miles), the utility’s transmission division, TransÉnergie, operates approximately 20,000 miles of lines and associated substations. Between them and the distribution department (which operates 60,000 miles of overhead lines and 5,500 miles of underground lines), Hydro Québec Laboratories is always working.

“We perform for them [the other operating departments] a wide range of tests for system performance analysis and power quality enhancement,” Fortin stated.

“Our personnel is frequently called upon to act as consultants to define testing programs and run defect or malfunction analyses,” he added.

But Hydro Québec Laboratories isn’t keeping all its testing skills at home. Recent clients have included General Electric, American Electric Power, Siemens and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. They don’t even limit themselves to the continent.

“We have also performed some works for utilities in South America-Columbia, Peru-as well as North America,” Fortin said.

“We contributed to the resolution of problems related to windmill integration for a Northeast utility and some of our consultants were called as experts to the court for a South Central utility in a case involving the explosion of oil field equipment,” he stated, tracing the laboratory’s expanding sphere of influence.

And this growing clientele has led to expansions at the laboratory as well. They’ve added a medium voltage current testing facility to Laboratoire Grande Puissance (the High Power Laboratory) in order to do complete three-phase current switching tests on 15 to 38 kV switches or circuit breakers. On top of this, the mechanical and thermo-mechanical laboratories are also growing, adding a conductor and conductor accessories, as well as a fiber optic overhead and ground wire test facility to its existing experimental line for testing Aeolian vibrations.

But Fortin sees the largest leap related to deregulation in Hydro Québec’s System Simulation Laboratory, which provides the utility a more realistic view of theories and hypotheses.

“It’s [the Simulation Laboratory] growing very rapidly, taking advantage of being at the leading edge of the development of real time full digital simulation,” Fortin stated.

“These developments make possible the fast adaptation of simulations to industry needs,” he added.

Overall, Fortin sees labs like Hydro Québec’s contributing significantly to the post-deregulation industry.

“We offer utilities a way to check reliability and performance of new equipment, to substantially reduce the risks associated with implementation of that equipment and to identify any defect or malfunctions with that equipment, contributing significantly to the development of new solutions,” Fortin stated.

More information about Hydro Québec Laboratories can be obtained via phone at 405/652-8200, or e-mail at lab@ireq.ca. Their Web site, www.ireq.ca, is available in both French and English versions.

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