Testlingy: Interview Innovation manager Peter Vaessen

Can you please introduce yourself to the audience?
“My name is Peter Vaessen, I have a background in power engineering, and started working at KEMA – key goal at for power engineers at the time and sometimes still is – 36 years ago. Before that, I was awarded a cum laude MSc degree in electrical power engineering from Eindhoven Technical University, The Netherlands, in 1985. The same year I joined KEMA (now a CESI brand).

In my long career, I held research positions in the field of large power transformers and high-voltage
measurement and testing. I headed the Transmission & Distribution high-voltage department and managed realization projects, amongst the most challenging and satisfying ones were the construction of Dutch 400kV substations and (international) laboratory test facilities. As a principal consultant, I have 25 years’ experience in (U)HVDC technology and Transmission & Distribution grids with high shares of renewables.

Furthermore, I am Chairman of the board of the European Distributed Energy Resources Laboratories association (DERlab) and member of several national and international working groups. I am, also, part-time professor of Hybrid Transmission Systems at Technical University Delft, where I teach high-voltage technology and HVDC.”

What is your role in KEMA Labs?
Currently, I am Innovation Manager at KEMA Labs (CESI’s Testing, Inspection and Certification Division) and actively involved in the technology strategy. Being responsible for innovation at the KEMA Labs in the Netherlands, I have been involved in several key projects that are important in terms of innovative testing of components for power grids. In particular, I am presently involved in the development of a new KEMA Lab facility: our laboratories are extremely cutting-edge, but due to the new requirements of customers with regard to especially digitalization, we have updated the existing labs and invest for future demand.

What is the role of the TIC industry in guaranteeing the resilience of power grids?
It is a very important role. Let me start by saying that the world is heading towards more digitalization, virtualization and simulation, but even if someone may say otherwise testing will never become obsolete.
High-voltage engineering and technology, for example, do not scale: you cannot just make things bigger and double the voltage, because that is not the way the physics work. Also, the higher the voltage, the more important small details become. I have seen an 800-kV transformer fail, because of a small detail. A very small plastic cap that was missing caused a failure during the lightning impulse testing. If this would have happened in service, the failure in this 10-million-worth object would cause an outage of the transmission link!

Therefore, testing is extremely valuable to assure that every detail, every component works as it should do before installing it into the power system. Otherwise, we can experience blackouts and other inconveniences, which have a huge negative impact on business and people. Furthermore – and this is also something that is not spoken about enough – interruptions in the power supply cannot be prevented, they will occur, and you should either build a redundant system or have a fast response ready to mitigate the power outage.

Can you please give us some examples on the importance of testing in this regard?
Grid companies will utilize the grid assets more and more due to the increasing demand for electricity, therefore it has become very important to prevent equipment failure. Old equipment needs to be replaced in time. To do that, a planned outage need to be scheduled, these outages must be coordinated and planned well in advance and are often last-minute canceled by system operations due to the grid’s high load status and power flows to be accommodated: therefore, for some refurbishment, crews are waiting, sometimes for years to perform the maintenance. This is also true for expansion of existing substations and installations.

The reliability and lifetime of power electronics (think e.g., of a large solar inverter), which are installed more and more in the grid, is also a big question mark. There is not much experience yet, we are gathering operational experience, so life-time testing needs to be developed.

What do you and your team do to increase the resilience of power grids?
In power grids a double risk is present caused by an increased use and dependency on a reliable electricity supply in combination with the substitution of other energy sources with variable renewables. To mitigate this double risk trend in an aging infrastructure independent quantitative equipment and system assessments are required, as new, old or modified T&D equipment and systems can have either a positive or negative effect on availability and reliability.
We are involved in projects, partly as advisors for TSOs, to help them to configure equipment that can be used to quickly fix an outage or as temporary solution for a bottle-neck in the grid. Think of mobile stations and mobile equipment as a backup usable in case when things go wrong or tend to go wrong.

We also collaborate with university PhD-candidates and Master-students on diagnostics tools that can serve as add-ons to our testing, you can think of space charge measurements (indicator for quality) in HVDC cables, partial discharge detection and analysis with a new magnetic sensor in (DC)GIS, aging of insulation due to higher harmonics and DC.

We are also working on a MV test generator based on power electronics for dielectric testing that can
generate arbitrary waveshapes and further development of our hardware and control in the loop test facility for system testing in the FLEX power grid lab.

Can you mention a couple of projects that could exemplify that?
We performed tests on MV switchgear installations and current transformers that were already in operation for many years to assess whether or not they still comply with the standard and are able to fulfill the required duties. In our FLEX power grid lab battery systems that act as no-break and emergency supply for critical operations have been tested with respect to operational functionality, as well as model verification of MW-scale inverters that allow grid owner and operators to perform system studies and reliability analysis.

A different league are large mobile GIS and transformer substations that are used for fast outage recovery, temporary grid bottleneck relief or installation in remote and challenging areas. Such equipment should be very robust and function always when deployed. As such equipment is also road-transportable, a set of special tests with respect to e.g., mechanical vibration, short circuit withstand capability, (plug-in) connectors, (voltage) readiness tests are advisable.