Remote - M2M Special Issue 2013 - (Page 14)

Feature Article Benefits of Using Wireless Networks to Automate FAA-Mandated Obstruction Light Monitoring Requirements Jason Wilson, On-Ramp Wireless The concept of the Internet of Things was first coined more than 10 years ago, but the vision has been slow to turn into reality because the cost of technology needed to connect objects was not economically viable – until now. The Internet of Things is projected to grow into a $31 billion market by 2016, and machine-to-machine wireless communications is a core element in making the vision a reality. One emerging use-case for this new age of wireless connectivity is for electric utilities, who are looking for cost effective ways to pervasively automate the monitoring and management of remote and hard-to-reach assets such as overhead, pad mount and underground switches, distribution feeders, distribution transformers and other assets for improved grid reliability and efficiency and condition-based maintenance. One major area of concern for utilities is ensuring they are meeting the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requirements for obstruction light monitoring. The FAA mandates that any structure exceeding 200 feet above ground level, or if a structure’s particular location may affect the National Aerospace System, must meet the regulations dictated by the FAA Advisory Circular for Obstruction Marking and Lighting. Once the FAA mandates that a structure must be lit, any failure or malfunction that lasts more than 30 minutes affecting a top light or flashing obstruction light, regardless of location, must be reported immediately to the appropriate flight service station so a Notice to Airmen can be issued. A utility also runs the potential risk of liability if it does not fulfill the FAA mandate and an incident occurs. This is a huge unaddressed operational monitoring challenge for utilities across the nation with large, geographically dispersed assets. Current Challenges of Today’s Monitoring Systems To ensure there are no malfunctions, obstruction lighting must be monitored on a regular basis by either visual or automatic means. Currently, utilities are using manual monitoring, which is neither cost-efficient nor an effective method of monitoring. Manual monitoring requires dispatching on a daily basis trouble crews (sometimes using helicopters) to visually inspect the lights. This type of visual monitoring runs the risk of errors, which could lead to potential fines and legal action if an accident occurs. Plus, for utilities with 100 or more towers with lighting requirements, the visual monitoring of these lights alone can cost up to $1 million per year in operational costs – a significant cost burden. Conversely, automated monitoring minimizes the risk of fines and damages, eliminates human error and reduces the operational costs associated with manual monitoring. It also satisfies the FAA requirements for automated monitoring. Until recently, the use of automated systems has been difficult to accomplish due to challenges such as the remote areas in which some of the towers typically reside. Often times, these areas do not provide consistent cellular communications or are difficult to cost-effectively reach with other network technologies. Meeting FAA reporting requirements demands that an automated solution be based on a pervasive and dependable wireless network to monitor obstruction lights. This ensures that the system can provide notification alarms in a timely manner. However, because many automated monitoring solutions available today are built on single-use networks, which rely heavily on commercial cellular services for connectivity, their 14 use is not always reliable in remote areas. Many of these towers are located in areas with little to no cellular communications, and those connected to a commercial network run the risk of network congestion with higher priority traffic during occurrences when cellular networks are often congested during catastrophes such as large scale power outages, earthquakes and hurricanes. Advancement in Wireless Solutions Can Solve These Problems Wireless automation solutions enable a utility to monitor their hardest to reach assets and maintain a higher degree of control, reliability and high capacity with the added ability to support multiple smart grid applications on one network – enabling them to support both FAA light monitoring and other applications such as distribution monitoring and management and Automated Metering Infrastructure. When deploying a wireless solution for FAA Obstruction light monitoring, utilities should use the following criteria to determine if it best suits their needs. First, utilities need a solution which supports a variety of lighting systems, ensuring that the area is monitored completely. It should be able to support L-810, L-864 and L-864/865 lighting systems, as well as support for infrared lights used in non-FAA obstruction marking requirements, such as military or border patrol operations. The network should also possess the ability to rapidly accommodate new light monitoring requirements. A variety of other FAA lighting components should also be considered for a complete solution, including alarms such as intrusion detection, low back-up battery, and primary power system failure. This ensures that utilities can be notified immediately if a problem does occur or may potentially occur when primary power systems are degrading. What’s more, automation systems should be simple to streamline deployment, by use of visual indicators and test mechanisms, which validate operational system status in real-time during installation. The solution should have a low-power design using lighting system power (AC or solar recharged DC battery) for primary power, and internal back-up battery for ongoing communication through primary power failure. Finally, FAA Obstruction Light automation systems must operate reliably in severe outdoor environments that include high EMF and EMI fields typical in up to 500 kV transmission lines and substations, and must provide secure, utility-grade reliability and information security. Meeting Today’s Requirements with New Technology Meeting FAA regulations is a top priority for utilities. By leveraging new advancements in wireless networking technology, utilities can streamline the monitoring of their obstruction lighting to not only comply with FAA regulations, but also maintain public safety and reduce liability. As a result, utilities now have the ability to improve compliance while substantially reducing operational costs. On-Ramp Wireless has developed a wireless system purpose-built to efficiently connect billions of hard-to-reach devices in challenging environments. The On-Ramp Wireless Network enables low-power monitoring and management applications within Smart Grid, oil and gas operations, water efficiency, industrial sensing and location tracking. For more information, visit

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Remote - M2M Special Issue 2013

Towards Right-Sizing Security for M2M Solutions: A Practical Approach
Intelligent Power Distribution for M2M Communications
Optimizing Remote Monitoring in the Cloud
Exponential M2M Market Growth Calls for Innovative RF and Antenna Solutions
Benefits of Using Wireless Networks to Automate FAA-Mandated Obstruction Light Monitoring Requirements
Energy Management Systems For Green Buildings
M2M Products and Services
Industry News

Remote - M2M Special Issue 2013