This is Just Neat

I’ve known about this for a while but I figured I’d share it since many won’t know about the effort that goes into maintaining transmission lines.

Balls of steel.  That is a maneuver that has a pile of  things that can go wrong at any moment.  Most of those things will likely result in death.  That said it can and is done safely on a regular basis.

For those who don’t understand how attaching a helicopter to a 500 KV line doesn’t result in things failing you just need to remember what matters is a difference in potential.  The helicopter is a floating isolated point.  Since its isolated, its reference to “ground” can be shifted.  In this case as the helicopter approaches they use the wand to tie the helicopter to the same potential.  Once the helicopter at line match, so does everything else on the helicopter, including the people.

Once that connection is broken though the systems start drifting apart again.

And lets not forget if the weather turns there’s now another huge problem since wind can cause the helicopter to collide with the power lines.  The lesson there is a helicopter has 74,000 moving parts, all moving in opposition to each other, each with the common goal to kill you.

Still looks like it would be an interesting job, at least as a pilot anyway.  I have no interest on sitting on top of a 500 KV line, despite my knowledge of how it works.  I also know at 500KV it wouldn’t take much to create the current necessary to kill me should a piece of personal protective equipment fail.

Quote of the Day – Anonymous (11/29/2012)

Reverse Reactive Power is a quantity defined by the IEEE and we know it is real and exists because the lights are on.

Anonymous – Discussion during a meeting

[We spent more time arguing about this subject than should have been allowed, the instigator just wouldn't let it go.  He couldn't understand the subject at hand and felt that the usage of the words were wrong.  Never mind every last power engineer in the room was saying it was perfectly descriptive of exactly what was required for the specification.

For an idea of how bad it was, I was waiting for the meeting to get physical as the instigator became very aggressive about his issue and ignoring the responses because he didn't understand it.  The person running the meeting was becoming notably upset at the unnecessary delay to moving forward and the fact he was ignoring the responses.

The person couldn't grasp the concept of directionality coupled with reactive power.  To him it was imaginary it didn't exist, current either leads or lags.  He couldn't understand that while it was imaginary in a mathematical sense, it was real, and it results in things such as heat and other issues.  What really got him though was the idea that power has a direction.

Finally one person restated, yes I said restated, that the IEEE has defined this term explicitly and finally justified his point at the end by noting that the fact lights over our heads were working and so obviously Reverse Reactive Power does exist.

It was about this time I was doing everything I could to suppress laughter.

There are days I both love and hate this job.  I will say I'm saving that quote and will paraphrase it when I find a situation like this again.

We spent lunch working on educating him on all the details of what it was, how it was measured, and why there was a direction involved.  He was a bit better but was still a little confused.  I will say it was probably a good thing I was my father's son instead of my father in this little incident.  I will say I heard his words in the back of my head, the phrase "You obviously have the intelligence of a banana slug" flashed through my brain in my father's voice.

Don't get me wrong, he's smart and sharp, but he knows jack about power, power systems, and what goes into protecting them.  Truly smart men recognize what they may not know and listen instead of insisting everyone else is wrong.  Especially when the others can mathematically show and prove their point.* -B]

*Geek out moment, Reactive Power is explicitly a mathematical quantity.  It is the complex or imaginary portion of Apparent Power.  Forward and reverse is applied merely to indicate the direction of power flow relative to a location.  For example which direction is power flowing in a power line?  To people in this industry directionality is what makes the world turn.  You need to know if the fault is in front or behind your monitoring equipment.  Well if you’re looking at the output of a generator and you see power flowing into the generator (reverse), that’s not a good thing and very rarely intentional.  Something is going to get very warm if you don’t do something soon.

Why Did I choose Engineering?

Because of things like this:

There’s a serious personal reward to projects like that.  I do love how there’s even a trigger mode.

My wife just sat staring in astonishment.  Her dad has a prosthetic from an industrial accident.  While he doesn’t have smart limb, he does have a quite high tech limb that flexes and moves naturally.  Most people don’t even realize he has one unless he’s wearing shorts. 

10 years ago, this type of stuff was still fantasy for the most part.  The amount of processing and input gathering required limited the ability to create something usable.  Moore’s law is a freaking awesome thing.

Yeah, That’s Always the Solution

Yes, read that title with a serious sense of sarcasm because unsurprisingly we have the following.

Some officials are calling for the U.S. military to take over the managerial structure of the Long Island Power Authority until power is restored on Long Island, where more than a quarter million homes and businesses are still in the dark after Sandy and a snowstorm.

Because fighting a war is so close to restoring and rebuilding the electric power system?  Don’t get me wrong, I have the utmost respect for the military, but there is nothing to indicate they have the skills or abilities necessary to fix this problem.

Now it must be noted that the Navy does have a few men who actually do know something about the power system and distribution, but they also focus on it being aboard ship, with a smaller system with redundancy designed to survive casualties.  Others would look at the military and say, “Well the military has to supply power to their bases.”  Well even the military is lacking the people and skills to do that now days.

By September 30, 2003, most of the over two thousand utility systems owned and operated by the Military Departments are to be privatized. See DoD Reform Initiative Directive #49. Utility systems include systems: (1) for the generation and supply of electric power; (2) for the supply of natural gas; (3) for the transmission of telecommunications; (4) for the treatment or supply of water; (5) for the collection or treatment of wastewater; and (6) for the generation or supply of steam, hot water, and chilled water.

So what exactly would involving the government in the power restoration process do other than create an additional layer of bureaucratic red tape to go through?

There was a considerable amount of damage and it is very serious and not simple.  Many lines that have been repaired remain out of service because there isn’t enough power feeding in to support the line currently.  Not to mention the fact that there has also been damage to the natural gas system and other areas will not have power restored until the gas problems are fixed.

As I said previously:

So what we have is a bunch of distribution points that were/are full of water, need to be drained, the equipment cleaned, checked, maintained, and replaced possibly in some instances.  All of this must be done before re-energizing that circuit.

That takes time, it doesn’t happen overnight, and given the fact that salt water, metal, and electricity is involved  you better do it right.  If you don’t it will be more likely to fail in the future.

Does it suck being out of power?  Yes it does and anyone who thinks a utility doesn’t care about it’s customers being out of power, specifically a significant amount, doesn’t have a brain between their ears.  Each day service is down is a day of lost revenue.  Figure how many people there are, not to mention commercial customers, and then think about how much they’re loosing overall.

Yet again a group of people are screaming the government will magically solve the problem.  Most of those same people actually don’t have a clue about what’s actually going on.

Quote of the Day–Ry Jones (11/05/2012)

Mother Nature is a bitch, and physics isn’t taking your call, either.

Ry JonesMy guess is I will never get to drive on the bridge currently under construction

November 5th, 2012

[It is amazing the number of people who have assured themselves that they are some how exempt from Mother Nature being a bitch to them, or that some how they are exempt from the laws of physics.  The worst part about it is those who do that rarely ever suffer the consequences for their decisions and choices, it’s always someone else who ends up taking the brunt of it.  -B]

Someone Once Asked Me…

Why I wanted to save all those parts kits from my EE lab classes.  What parts kits am I talking about exactly?  These, including the others I got from friends who didn’t want them:



You see, I had this ability to know I was going to need them in the future for some sort of awesome project.  Well Joe has been trying to get a project done to gather some info and I finally just said send me the schematic and I’ll build it.  Amazingly when I saw the schematic it all became obvious.  I saw what was being done and how it worked and figured out values that I could actually achieve.  Spent  some time at Radio Shack tonight and picked up parts and now every thing is in a nice clean box.


At some point I may rebuilt it to use the extra connector that is available for power, currently it is using a 9V battery on the inside.  Currently this device is already on battery number two.  I missed a soldier bridge and didn’t ohm it before hooking it up.  Once I cleaned the bridge I did a full functional test with my ohm meter and it worked exactly as intended.

Now you may be wondering what exactly this little box is for.  I will give you a hint otherwise you’ll have to wait for the video.  The first three terminal blocks will have current flowing through them.  The silver BNC connector on the right is for telemetry.  Remember that this box is supplying the current.  I would give you a schematic but it would become obvious.  Those who already know, don’t spill the beans.  You might also consider who the customer is on this one for an idea of what we’re doing.

I will say off on the side I have 100ft of speaker wire and another 25 feet of coax cable.  Now I just need to put some labels on it and we’ll be done.

I will say when the Radio Shack guy asked me what I was building, I made sure to pay first.  The reception as it usually is though was, “Awesome, take video and send it to me.”

Fair Winds and Following Seas Mr. Armstrong

So as many of you probably know Neil Armstrong passed away recently.  While it certainly is a blow, it is by no means unexpected:

I am by no means old enough to remember Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s historic walk.  I was however lucky enough to grow up being the son of an engineer.  One of my father’s good friends worked on the Apollo program.  I will say I’m not a big fan of NASA, but I will not allow my dislike of them to taint or color the value and accomplishment of the Apollo program.

Growing up I looked at Apollo and it meant one thing to me, if I can dream it, I can build it.*  Hence my becoming an engineer.

I want to see us return in my life time.  But everyone in that program can take solace in the fact they helped inspire a bunch of people to become engineers.  No just at that time, but continuing forward even today.

So pardon me while I go give a wink at the moon.

Good bye Neil and God Speed.


*It is worth noting what sealed my decision to be an engineer was seeing the development of the Physio Control Life Pack as well as the Automatic External Defibrillator.  The fact I saw something my dad and his friends built from the ground up that at the time only had the potential to save lives and revolutionize everything.  Yup, it did exactly that.  The Apollo program’s impact though was no slouch either.

Electricity is Dangerous….

Weer’d had an incident recently in his “Gun Death?” files that centered around a downed power line.

There, she saw a white SUV on the grass of a house. Water spewed from the broken hydrant – about 2,000 gallons per minute – and downed power lines carrying a charge of 4,800 volts lay along the ground, charging the water around the exposed wires.

Most people understand that electricity is dangerous but often they don’t understand how dangerous.  I started the power series and I keep meaning to go back and continue it, and one of these days I will.  For now though I’m going to try and explain just the specifics to try and help people understand what is going on.

To start off with, if you are in a vehicle and it strikes a power pole or a power distribution box.  Stay In Your Vehicle!  Your vehicle will actually help protect you from the voltages.  If you can, back away from the downed conductors and then call 911. In the incident of hitting a power distribution box, odds are the line will fault and a breaker will open.  However, be advised that doesn’t mean your safe.  The majority of faults in the distribution system are momentary.  Because of this fact there is an auto reclosing circuit which will reclose the line and energize it.  The fault will remain and the circuit will open again.  Usually after the 3rd shot failed they will lock out the re-closer.  Still, stay in your vehicle, don’t risk it unless there is a more pressing danger to your life such as a vehicle fire.  If you do need to leave your vehicle, use my notes at the bottom.

Now, if you see someone get in an accident with a power pole or distribution box, keep your distance!  If you see the line arching or sparking, keep your distance as much as possible.  Immediately call the utility and they can de-energize the lines.  While the power company wishes to clear faults when they occur on the power system there is a particular kind of fault that is very hard to detect.  Not only is it hard to detect, but it becomes exceedingly difficult when you’re in the distribution system.

Detecting this fault is difficult because there is not a lot of current involved which is one of the big items that is watched for protection.  The reason there is less fault current, especially at the distribution level is the distance from generation and the fact it is in parallel with numerous other loads.  Especially the further you get down a distribution line.

What is confusing in this case is the combination with water with the fault.  Normally high impedance faults are found on things like asphalt or in the desert on dry sand.  Where the ground itself isn’t a good conductor.  In this case water is an excellent conductor, however I suspect that the water was mainly on asphalt which was acting as an insulator and this fault was way down the distribution line.

So here’s basically what I figure happened.  When the line went into the water, all the water was basically at a potential of 4800 volts.  The water would have a low impedance so there wouldn’t be much of a voltage drop across it.  However, there is a massive drop between the water and the actual earth ground.  As someone stepped into the water they bridged a circuit with their body, especially if they stepped off of grass over a curb into the water.

Your body and electricity don’t really mix.  It takes only a mere 11mA to stop your heart, it isn’t voltage that kills you, it’s the current.  Your bodies natural resistance tops out at around 100 kilo ohms at the skin, if it’s dry and you’re not sweating.  Internally it’s only about 300-1000 ohms.  If you get your skin wet the resistance drops.

With dry skin if you were to grab on to a 4800V line you would get 48mA through your body approximately, that would be more than enough to kill you, though that would depend on the exact path taken through the body.  Wet, the current will be easily measured in Amps.  If some how it doesn’t stop your heart, odds are you will be lit on fire as your body will be dissipating approximately 27 kW of energy.

So everyone please listen to me, stay away from downed conductors.  Yes people may be injured, people may need help, but it will do no good for them for you to injure yourself in the process.  In fact it will divert resources from helping them to helping you.

Now if some how you find yourself near a downed conductor, do not walk towards it or away from it!  Do the following:

  • Keep both feet as close together as possible.  This will keep your feet at approximately the same electrical potential and will limit current flow.
  • Hop both with both feet away from the downed conductor.  Again, do not walk.  At most shuffle.  See there’s a reason they made you learn the bunny hop in PE in school!
  • If you need to exit a car.  Jump clear of the vehicle without touching the vehicle and the ground at the same time.
  • Keep your arms held tightly to your sides.

The explanation of this is think of the ground as a high impedance resistor.  Over a resistor is a voltage drop.  The further the distance on the ground from one point to another the bigger the voltage drop.  Your body has a much lower resistance than the ground, and if you step, that difference in potential will form a circuit through your body.  If you are not comfortable hopping, then shuffle away.