Article Courtesy of NEETRAC

What is NEETRAC?

The National Electric Energy Testing, Research and Applications Center (NEETRAC) supports the electric transmission and distribution industry through collaboration with its current 21 utility and 16 manufacturing members. NEETRAC projects touch on most components and subsystems found between the generator bus bar and customer power meter. Customers consult with NEETRAC to design custom testing and research projects that support the utility or manufacturer decision-making process. Some of the more popular project categories include:

  • Assessing the condition and remaining life of components including overhead conductor and underground power cable systems
  • Conducting root cause failure investigations of virtually every component in the T&D space
  • Comparing the performance of components from different manufacturers
  • Researching component applications questions, such as aging polymer cutouts, or lightening arrestor placement experiments, or wood pole inspection methods

Condition Assessment

Assessing the condition of overhead and underground lines is the #1 reason smaller utilities use NEETRAC’s services. As conductors and cables age, their material properties change. For example, overhead conductors experience creep as they age, which reduces their elongation. Tensile elongation tests of conductor strands provide an indication of the remaining life. In underground cable systems, insulation degradation presents as water tree growth and provides an indication of remaining life. Corrosion of the steel core strands (loss of zinc) in the overhead conductor and the metallic shield in underground cables provides another indication of remaining life. NEETRAC maintains a database of all assessments conducted for the last 15 years, and uses that data to place a specific line assessment into context.

Other important assessments include new component quality assurance (QA), especially for underground cables, covered conductors and transformers. NEETRAC performs tests on product samples and compares results to the utility’s purchasing specifications.

NEETRAC also supports commissioning underground cable systems to ensure that the construction process does not introduce latent defects that could result in early failures.

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A Cable QA inspection located contamination in the cable’s insulation
NEETRAC staff testing a transformer

Root Cause Failure Analysis

NEETRAC supports electric utilities of all sizes with root cause failure analysis of most components found in electric transmission and distribution systems including conductors, cables, connectors, joints, switches and breakers, transformers, lightning arresters, hardware, and others. Understanding why a component failed can be important for:

  • Increasing line crew and public safety
  • Assessing system reliability risk
  • Supporting changes to installation, operations, and maintenance procedures
  • Changing procurement specifications
  • Identifying preferred equipment suppliers

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Example of a vented water tree growing from the insulation shield with some electrical treeing
A failed PT before dissection
NEETRAC staff dissecting a current transformer

Compare the performance of different Suppliers’ Products and Services

NEETRAC offers utilities the ability to compare the performance of different suppliers’ products and services. While these projects are frequently paid for by a single utility, many projects are paid for by combinations of utilities through jointly funded projects.

A product performance testing project could be a comparison of transformer construction quality or a comparison of different porcelain and polymer insulator manufacturers. NEETRAC recently conducted a wood pole inspection methods study that compared the inspection results of the sound and bore method with the IML pole drill, with actual breaking strength test results. The project was funded by eight of NEETRAC’s members, including the NRECA. (NRECA members can obtain the results of this project).

NEETRAC also provides manufacturing plant audit services for electric utilities.

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Pole testing at NEETRAC’s pole test facility
Copper thickness evaluation conducted as part of a copper weld static wire assessment
NEETRAC’s 1.2MV impulse generator helps answer your impulse and BIL questions about insulators, cutouts, lightning arresters, cross-arms, etc.
Microscopes help with root-cause failure analyses
Salt fog test on galvanized coatings to compare different suppliers and technologies.
Comparative evaluation of different paints under corrosive conditions.

Answering Applications Questions

NEETRAC helps answer your application questions through individual consulting projects, which can be purchased by NEETRAC members, as well as nonmembers, and research funded collaboratively by all NEETRAC members. (Gresco and the NRECA are NEETRAC members. So, all collaboratively funded NEETRAC projects are available to all Gresco and NRECA members.)

Among NEETRAC’s co-op members (through Gresco and NRECA), the Endurance of Insulation to Multifactor Aging has been NEETRAC’s most popular collaboratively funded project. The project seeks to understand the life of various polymeric materials used in cutouts, insulators, arresters, etc.

Co-op members have also conducted projects on distributed energy resources (DER), such as photovoltaic generation stations. The main goal is understanding DER’s potential to enable more flexible operation of distribution systems with high penetration, as well as the capability of providing grid services that were not available or exploited before to aid and improve distribution operations.

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Endurance of Outdoor Insulation Multifactor Aging
DER Operation Analysis
Lightning impulse test on a transformer
Dielectric testing on helium-filled celebratory balloons support the development of a new IEEE standard (P2845)
Testing a wildlife protective device