CoppEnd A security system for power equipment

D. Serpanos1, A. Safakas2, D. Stachoulis1

1 Industrial Systems Institute (ISI/RC ATHENA), Patras, Greece

2 Hellenic Electricity Distribution Network Operator S.A., Athens, Greece

Copper theft emerges as a significant problem in the evolution and operation of critical infrastructures like Power Grid, Transportation Networks and Water Facilities. The problem has become acute due to the inadequate security measures of infrastructures as well as the lack of a strict legal framework for transportation and trading of metals. CoppEnd (Copper - defEnd) is a security system that targets to protect effectively and efficiently systems that use copper, focusing on power systems and their components, such as transformers. CoppEnd promises to reduce the economic damage, which reaches millions of euros, and the social impact on organizations and citizens, while enabling the deployment of technologies that lead to the evolution of existing power networks to smart grids.

Electricity networks in every country constitute critical infrastructures, since they support almost all economic and social activities. Currently, electricity networks face significant ongoing shifts in sources and operation as becomes evident from the increasing deployment of high- and medium voltage transmission lines, the new advertisements addressing green power, the new services offered by the providers to the customers, etc. The traditional production of electricity, based on conventional fuels, has been augmented with the increasing use of Renewable Energy Sources (RES), driven by the need to reduce pollutant emissions enforced by European law. Furthermore, we witness a sharp increase in demand for electricity, since all activities are based on electrical power. In order to connect efficiently all new electrical power plants with the transmission and distribution networks, stakeholders introduced extensions, modifications, and new routings in existing networks and installed modern software systems in control centers. Nowadays, electricity providers incorporate new tools in their operations, in order to offer electricity to consumers in an optimal way, at every moment, based both on demand and production levels. This significant upgrading effort becomes more difficult, because of external factors that cause serious damage and malfunction to power networks.

Considering the changes of power needs and services, it is necessary to convert the existing conventional grids into smart ones in order to achieve efficient operation. Research and development in smart grid applications requires correct and undisturbed cooperation of all installed equipment in critical infrastructure systems. One of the main problems for the evolution to power grids, especially in Greece, is the abnormal operation and cooperation of electrical equipment that companies employ directly to the power grid; this abnormality is mainly due to the theft of copper in the equipment. Similarly, organizations that offer essential goods and services, like the power distribution operators, water supply and sewerage companies and railway companies, become unable to offer full service to their customers because of the theft of copper from equipment they use for a wide range of different operations. The examples are numerous and relate directly to a variety of equipment. For example, in water supply companies when pumping equipment is looted, suddenly, hundreds of customers are left without water for various uses, such as drinking, watering crops, etc. Also, cables of train companies with significant quantities of copper are exposed throughout the entire length of the tracks and are targeted by thieves who leave train routes inoperable for long time intervals; this results to operation failure, inability to serve the traveling public and, consequently, to the use of alternative transportation means that are less environmentally friendly, with large CO2 emissions.

An important part of the equipment that is stolen is in smart grid components, which must operate efficiently exploiting special software and hardware (e.g., smart meters) to achieve a main goal of the smart grid, i.e. the optimization between the production and the consumption of electricity. A significant problem in the power distribution network is the destruction of Medium Voltage (MV) transformers, because there are approximately 150-200 kilos of pure copper in each transformer, which are extracted illegally. The looting of this equipment has disastrous consequences with significant damages at times, resulting to both social and economic damage due to the fact that millions of euros are lost during long loss of power (hours or even days at times). These incidents cause significant upset to operators, because they not only need to replace the transformers but to compensate their customers as well. Importantly, theft incidents sometimes result to serious injuries or even loss of life.

In order to solve the problem of MV transformer protection, we are developing CoppEnd, a security system that enables early detection of human intervention to the system as well as tracking of the transportation of components, thus enabling timely intervention of authorities. With this ability, transformers are protected despite deployment in isolated areas and overcoming the gaps of the legal framework that enables metal trading without full documentation as well.

The Greek power distribution network, operated by the Hellenic Electricity Distribution Network Operator S.A., is spread across more than 240.000 km and most of it is deployed in agricultural and isolated areas. The significant aggregate power line length leads to the inability to perform continuous and uninterrupted monitoring of the network and its equipment, including the MV transformers. Physical monitoring is prohibitive, considering the size, leading to a weakness that is exploited by thieves who detach MV transformers from the network and remove the copper inside them. This looting, which accounts for more than 155,000 medium voltage to low voltage transformers, has intensified further because of legal framework that enables metal trading without documentation. However, even if a stricter legal framework is enforced for the transfer and marketing of copper, the dramatic reduction of transformer destruction and theft can be achieved through use of a high-tech security system like CoppEnd. Such a system will not only discourage individuals from attacking the network but it will update an operation center for the exact position and the status of the equipment in case it is stolen. Inclusion of CoppEnd in the distribution network addresses the weaknesses identified from the documented attacks. The most common attack method, which takes place typically at night, is to detouch the transformer from its two supporting pillars, unscrewing the attaching bolts, pulling it with ropes to throw it on the ground and opening it to detach the copper. Importantly, the copper groundings are also typically removed from the pillars. Up to date, there have been several efforts to deter theft through mechanical means, but with little success. Reinforced metal structures, for example, do not discourage the perpetrators, especially in remote areas, because they can use more powerful pulling machines. In addition, systems with bright headlights, alarms and security personnel cannot be effective because of night attacks in rural areas that provide multiple escape routes and a lot of time to escape before prosecuting authorities reach the area.

The CoppEnd security system is based on the continuous recording of the location of the equipment on which it is adapted. It includes a transmitter and a receiver to receive commands and transmit information, which, in combination with a GPS system, enables the authorized administrator at a control center to identify whether the initial, correct location remain stable. The main component of the security system is a GPS tracker equipped with a GSM data transmission system. The GPS tracker has the ability to detect the equipments exact position using the geographical coordinates where the equipment is located. The GSM data transmission subsystem transmits the coordinates of the equipment coordinates to the control center, which, in turn, identifies landmarks on the map. System control occurs through text messages which can enable operation modes (on/off/standby) or change the intervals at which the coordinates are reported (the default value is 30 seconds). Additionally, the GPS tracker is equipped with a microphone, which is activated by the control center, in order to transmit real-time voice data that may be used, depending on the event or emergency. The system operates so that, any deviation from the original location would mean moving of the equipment. Thus, the control center is informed of the event. The evaluation of the situation and the event lies with the operator, considering that movement may not be a malicious attack but another incident, such as a natural phenomenon like an intense lightning strike.

When a transformer is removed from its original location, CoppEnd alters its operation, enabling a self-powered mode, via a battery system that is effectively kept charged through the power network itself; the trigger is enabled when normal power interruption is detected or when the included acceleration or pressure sensors give the appropriate command. After the operator of the control center is informed about the moving of the equipment, CoppEnd starts transmiting at longer intervals, in order to avoid detection and lengthen its battery lifetime. Continuous and large displacement from the original position indicate theft, so that the appropriate law enforcement authorities are mobilized and initiate tracking of the attackers based on the coordinates reported by CoppEnd.

When completed, CoppEnd will be attached at a point within the transformer, where the existent electromagnetic field does not interfere with its operation and in such a way, so that it cannot be extracted without causing damage to the transformer; this will ensure its activation before anything else. The combination of the GPS system with a range of sensors, such as temperature and relative humidity, can inform the control center about an emergency situation, whether the detected error is a technical fault (e.g., lightning strike), or about human intervention.

Importantly, CoppEnd is not only a security system but a significant component of smart grid development. Its integration to voltage transformers enables provision of additional services to the distribution network operator. As a security system, CoppEnd discourages copper thieves from looting equipment and enables their tracking, in case of detachment. As a smart grid component, CoppEnd provides additional information to the network operator, such as the exact location of the transformers in the area, evaluation of the quality of the transformers oil and emergency detection, including cases of natural disasters, through its combination of sensors and specialized middleware.