Challenges Faced by High-Voltage Power Cables in Smelters and Desalination Plants

High-voltage power cables used in smelters and desalination plants are critical components in industrial settings. These facilities demand massive amounts of electrical energy to sustain their operations. While high-voltage power cables are designed to handle high currents and efficiently transmit electricity over long distances, they encounter several unique challenges when deployed in harsh environments like aluminium smelters and desalination plants. This article will explore the key problems these cables face in such industries and how our optical sensing technology can help address them.

Extreme Temperatures:
One of the primary challenges of using high-voltage power cables in aluminium smelters and desalination plants is the extreme temperatures in these environments. Aluminium smelters operate at incredibly high temperatures to extract aluminium from raw materials, while desalination plants use high temperatures to convert seawater into freshwater. These conditions subject the power cables to thermal stress, leading to cable degradation, insulation breakdown, and potential failures. Manufacturers address this issue using specialised high-temperature-resistant materials and employing advanced cooling techniques to maintain cable integrity.

Corrosive Atmosphere:
Both aluminium smelters and desalination plants have corrosive atmospheres due to the presence of aggressive chemicals, salts, and moisture. The corrosive elements can attack the cable's insulation and conductors, leading to a shortened lifespan and reduced performance. To combat this problem, power cable manufacturers have developed cables with robust protective sheaths and coatings that offer increased resistance to corrosion.

Mechanical Stress:
The industrial processes in these plants often involve heavy machinery and equipment that can exert mechanical stress on high-voltage power cables. Frequent movement, vibrations, and accidental impacts may lead to mechanical damage, compromising the cable's structural integrity. In mitigating this issue, lines with enhanced mechanical strength and flexibility are employed to minimise stress during installation and operation.

Electrical Interference:
Aluminium smelters and desalination plants have numerous electrical devices and equipment, creating a complex electromagnetic environment. The presence of strong magnetic fields and electrical interference can adversely affect the performance of high-voltage power cables, leading to signal distortion and potential data transmission errors. Shielding and grounding measures are employed to minimise the impact of electromagnetic interference on the cables.

Power Loss and Efficiency:
High-voltage power transmission over long distances incurs some power loss due to cable resistance. This issue becomes more pronounced in energy-intensive industries like aluminium smelters and desalination plants. Increasing the voltage to compensate for power loss is a standard solution, but it requires careful consideration of insulation capabilities and safety measures. Moreover, improving cable efficiency includes using high-conductivity materials and innovative insulation technologies.

The case for more comprehensive cable monitoring has never been clearer. While many solutions are first fit, the power sector has steadily increased its investment in optical sensing technology over the past two decades. Migrating this passive optical technology into the industrial space should be considered by smelter and desalination operators to provide better insights into MV/HV cable condition.

Within the power cable, there is embedded fibre; our sensing solution monitors the area where up to 69% of failures occur, the termination or junction points. Using the fibre as a medium and connected to our interrogator unit, we provide insights that allow earlier opportunities for maintenance intervention protecting the power generation asset and operational integrity of the plant activity.

Our breakthrough passive electrical sensor technology makes this viable by avoiding the need for power supplies, active electronics, and data networks, including cellular networks, local servers and time sources at measurement points. Thus giving a centralised and permanent measurement of voltage, phase current and sheath current. Temperature is easily achieved and correlated to early detection of water damage, sheath damage, screen damage, transients and oscillations. - all of which initiate joint or screen degradation, overheating, Partial Discharge and eventually catastrophic failure.