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Researchers develop energy monitor that can identify potential electrical failures before they happen

A new system devised by researchers at MIT can monitor all electric devices within a building or factory, determining which ones are in use at any given time and whether any are showing signs of an imminent failure.

The system uses a sensor that is simply attached to the outside of an electrical wire at a single point, without requiring any cutting or splicing of wires. From that single point, it can sense the flow of current in the adjacent wire, and detect the distinctive ‘signatures’ of each motor, pump, or piece of equipment in the circuit by analyzing tiny, unique fluctuations in the voltage and current whenever a device switches on or off.

The technology is especially well-suited for relatively small, contained electrical systems such as those serving a building or factory with a limited number of devices to monitor.

The system is designed to be easy to use with little training. The computer dashboard features dials for each device being monitored, with needles that will stay in the green zone when things are normal, but swing into the yellow or red zone when a problem is spotted.

Detecting anomalies before they become serious hazards is the dashboard's primary task, but it can also perform other useful functions. By constantly monitoring which devices are being used at what times, it could enable energy audits to find devices that were turned on unnecessarily when nobody was using them, or spot less-efficient motors that are drawing more current than their similar counterparts. It could also help ensure that proper maintenance and inspection procedures are being followed, by showing whether or not a device has been activated as scheduled for a given test.

More details are available in the paper ‘NILM Dashboard: A power system monitor for electromechanical equipment diagnostics’. 



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