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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Disaster Prevention

 
 

In the aftermath of the wildfires that destroyed thousands of acres in Bastrop, Texas, two Texas A&M professors are making headway toward revolutionary wildfire prevention technology.
B. Don Russell, distinguished professor of the College of Engineering at Texas A&M, and Carl Benner, senior research engineer of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, have developed a technology that detects the electrical signatures of failing electrical equipment and fallen power lines known to cause fires.
Distribution Fault Anticipation technology successfully demonstrated on 12 utilities producers across the U.S. that it can increase public safety by decreasing the number of fires and catastrophic failure. Power companies are now awaiting a large-scale demonstration in consideration of adopting the technology.
Russell said power companies in Texas do an excellent job of providing safe and reliable delivery of electrical energy, but accidents still happen.
In September 2011, the single most destructive wildfire in the states history ravaged Bastrop County. The wildfire caused by a downed power line destroyed more than 34,000 acres in the county and destroyed more than 1,660 homes, according to the Bastrop County Office of Emergency Management.
If a similar event were to reoccur with the DFA technology in place, it is possible a wildfire may be reduced to a small-scale, minor incident.
DFA was developed during the past decade and underwent research and demonstrations to ensure reliability. DFA was designed to detect a number of things that are known to cause fires by continuously monitoring the power system. The technology is able to warn appropriate personnel when a power line falls and has the potential to cause conditions for fire.
The key thing is that we are able to anticipate failures and correct them before they actually cause unsafe situations, Russell said.
Though wildfires cannot be eradicated, the DFA technology may be able to protect Texans from many future disasters by providing the authorities with an early warning thus reducing the number of wildfire-causing situations.
This technology promises to make the delivery of electricity in Texas safer and more reliable, Russell said. If we can find and fix failing equipment before catastrophic failure or fires, we can save millions of dollars for the citizens of Texas.
A&M System Chancellor John Sharp said using the DFA technology across the state of Texas has the potential to greatly benefit Texans. However, he said there werent many people, including the electrical companies in Bastrop County, who knew the technology existed before the Bastrop wildfire.
Best I can tell, nobody in Texas knew anything about [the technology], Sharp said. I have to believe the people of Bastrop County would be interested to find out there is a technology that can probably keep this from happening again.
Electrical companies in Texas are currently looking into implementing the DFA technology depending on results of a large-scale demonstration. The demonstration will show how DFA technology can predict failures and enable repairs before some fires occur.
In order for utilities to be confident about a new technology, they need to have the value of the technology proved in a large-scale demonstration, Russell said. We cannot prevent all fires, but we can prevent many and warn that others have started.

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