AURTRA: a success story

It feels like we’ve been working with Plug and Play forever but it’s actually only our 2nd year. We’ve been thinking about it just recently because our very 1st Startup we met trough this cooperation turned our to be a true success!

Power transformers are an important part of the electrical energy system. Using an online monitoring system the transformer health of these valuable assets can be assessed any time. This is an important tool, especially when it has to be decided on further steps of a transformer at the end of lifetime.

Dr. Rene Braunstein, Energienetze Steiermark

Initial contact with the Australian Startup Aurtra was established following a collaboration between Energie Steiermark and Plug and Play, the Silicon Valley-based innovation platform. Right from the start, Plug and Play’s Vertical Energy team put us in touch with start-ups that were potentially suitable for our objectives. In this respect, Aurtra also represents the beginning of a successful collaboration with the American innovation platform that goes back to early 2019.

Aurtra’s transformer monitoring was first presented to our group in a start-up pitch by CEO Stephan McRae.

Right from the outset the team of Energie Steiermark could see the benefits our product could bring to their transformer operations and asset management groups. They communicated strongly their desire to move forward with trial units and that has culminated in a successful project for both parties.

Stephan McRae

Aurtra’s solution was developed over many years in cooperation with universities and transmission and distribution utilities in Australia. Aurtra commenced the commercialization of the system in 2017 and now owns the core technology which was the basis of the product.

The solution provides essential insights into transformer asset management:

  • Continuous and accurate monitoring of operating and insulation status
  • Automated analysis, reports and alerts on key issues
  • Forecasts on condition and service life and support for load management, maintenance and emergency planning
  • Through a unique set of insights and scenarios the user has the ability to engage in proactive asset management and an extension of transformers’ lives through improved risk management

After this initial presentation, further talks to discuss the solution were agreed upon and shortly afterwards, in February 2019, we welcomed Dr. Richard Harris, CTO of Aurtra, to our offices in Graz. During the meeting, Richard presented the solution to experts from Energienetze Steiermark and the generation company Green Power. Discussed in detail were the technical specifications and potential outputs of a test operation based on reference facilities and the Aurtra platform. During this discussion we learned about how the solution works and the extensive expertise in the transformer monitoring field.

Richard Harris, CTO of Aurtra; Gernot Schröck, next-incubator; Rene Braunstein, Energienetze Steiermark; Alexander Krampl, Energie Steiermark

Following conversations within the department, we decided to test the solution on two transformers in Energienetze Steiermark’s network area. The transformers selected could benefit from additional information provided by online monitoring, and their operation or runtime and deployment planning showed potential for optimisation. One new transformer was chosen whose electricity was supplied by a wind farm operated by Energie Steiermark and, due to power fluctuations, was exposed to varying power levels. Here the objective was to draw conclusions about how very high and strongly fluctuating loads affect the paper ageing of a „young“ transformer. The second transformer was already at the end of its service life, so the main focus was to acquire information on how service life might be extended.

Richard Harris was present for the installation of the first sensor in July 2019. The installation itself turned out to be simple, though from our point of view it was still important for our technicians to be able to put detailed questions to Aurtra on site. Once installed in the transformer the system automtically seeks out the desired communication platform and we were able to see results as soon as it was active on the transformer. Our technicians installed the second sensor independently. In the first few weeks, certain inputs and specifics were added to the transformers in the platform and after a „settling-in phase“ – for instance at the beginning the results indicated increased humidity – the results could be examined during operation. Particularly important factors in the pilot’s success were the ongoing processing, detailed examination and analysis of the results presented on the platform by Rene Braunstein, the expert responsible for the project in the network area. After several months of test operation and subsequent evaluations, the decision was finally made to transfer the sensors to continuous operation.

A new generation of hardware has become available at Aurtra recently. The new generation of sensors (enhanced functions including vibration and PD detection (partial discharges)) was installed after a short delay due to Covid 19.

One key advantage to the solution and the Aurtra platform is the ongoing development and the possibility to communicate with the experts at Aurtra at any time. For this reason, in addition to the knowledge we have gained, we also see the collaboration with the Aurtra team as a success.

We have enjoyed working with Energie Steiermark on this project. Especially interesting to Aurtra was the installation adjacent to the Wind Farm because as we all know the fluctuating nature of renewable generation energy loads can have a detrimental impact on new and old transformers alike. Being able to monitor this in real time will deliver insights to both of us.

Dr. Richard Harris

Christa Kloibhofer-Krampl

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