Increasing grid capacity across Europe with the Neuron
Much like the way the neurons in our brains and bodies transmit vital information between cells, The Heimdall Neuron collects and releases data from the grid. Allowing for a more efficient, greener, and safer future for power lines.
17th of August, 2023
New power lines can cost tens of millions of Euros. They take years to install. To judge capacity, older electronic grids often rely on modeling - which has huge error factors built-in. What’s more, it’s difficult to accurately pinpoint where faults have occurred. Finding and fixing issues can be a long, resource-intensive practice.
What if there was a better way? What if, instead of building time-and-money hungry grids, there was a way of bringing century-old infrastructure into the 21st Century?
Introducing a little miracle
Meet The Heimdall Neuron (HN).
Developed and first rolled out in Norway in 2019, the HN is now used by more than 30 utility companies in 14 countries.
This football-sized orb can - through a combination of sensors, probes, cloud software and AI - detect and help resolve issues on power lines before they pose too great a danger.
It measures the actual transmission capacity of power lines, not the projected capacity. Doing so, means the HN can increase capacity by up to 30%. Without large-scale interruptions or changes to existing infrastructure, it’s digitized the grid.
And it’s been put through its paces in coastal Norwegian storms, long summer days in rural France, and freezing Finnish winter nights.
We’re now on V4. To get where we are today, highlights one of the four-person mechanical engineering team, Camilla Kjølstad, has been the result of a lot of hard, creative - and completely rewarding - work. “It’s taken a lot of rapid prototyping,” she says, “including making the most of 3D model design and 3D printing. It’s about constantly making new iterations to find the best solutions.”
The Neuron packs a data-heavy punch
Described by Camilla as ‘being like Pacman’ this lightweight, waterproof ball lives happily on power lines where it collects and sends data. Installed using a manual insulated pole or piloted in by a drone, once fitted it’s powered by the electromagnetic current of the grid. The information it collects gets sent to custom databases.
It measures Dynamic Line Ratings, or DLR, which helps reduce congestion and maximizes electrical load. It’s set up to record Ambient Adjusted Ratings (AAR) to accurately record air temperature - also increasing capacity and slashing reliance on meteorological models and forecasting.
The Neuron has temperature sensors, meaning that it knows - and can transmit - when the line is about to become dangerously hot. But it also works in colder climates. It’s fitted with a gyroscope that can measure lag on the line. If lines lag too much - often caused by heavy ice deposits - they risk coming into danger with trees, vegetation and other objects.
Making contact with such objects not only poses a risk to the line but can also start fires. The Neuron has this covered. It’s fitted out with sensors to detect unusual CO2 levels that could indicate a fire. It also comes equipped with a microphone to listen out for corona discharge - low-power electrical discharges caused by the ionisation of the air surrounding a conductor, often accompanied by a hissing or crackling noise.
It can be integrated throughout the world
Made of aluminium, steel, and various synthetic materials, the engineering team had to make sure the HN could withstand all conditions.
“Designing the parts to make it work is obviously important,” says Camilla. “For example, we needed to make it waterproof so that water couldn’t come into the electric housing.” It also needs to cope with sweltering days and sub-zero nights.
Yet, she says, making the HN sturdy and weather-resistant weren’t the only considerations. The design team also had to factor in the production process.
“It’s not just about making something that does its job. It’s a complex assembly, so manufacturing these Neurons needs to be easy and cost-effective - while still being highly functional and effective. It’s a balancing act.”
A balancing act that looks to have been perfectly judged. As we collectively face a worldwide energy crisis, and with sustainability paramount, these magical orbs that can be applied to power lines in all corners of the globe are sure to be heralded for years to come.