Blog

Feb 18
Welcome to my blog!

 

This is where I'll be sharing my thoughts on topics that matter to me. Who knows... I might even share pictures, videos and links to other interesting stuff.

If I catch your interest, let me hear from you at adrian.hilton@subsea123.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feb 03
UK – Netherlands 9 (Broadstairs – Domburg)

This cable was landed at Joss Bay, Broadstairs on 6th July 1974. The shore end was floated ashore from the Cable Ship DG Bast using flotation buoys that were later cut free by a diving team

A section of the Beach was closed to the publish during the procedure which took a good part of the day

The General Manager (Canterbury) offered his apologises

A JCB was required, driving along shore, to provide sufficient power to pull the heavy cable ashore

Once ashore the cable was pulled into the duct and up the access slope where the armouring could be stripped back and clamped in the Beach Manhole

The cable was then stripped back and connected to the land cable section

Centre conductor brazing

Polythene was injected and moulded around the inner conductor

This was then X-rayed to ensure the joint is free from any voids or extraneous material.

Once confirmed to be good the outer copper tapes where re-instated and finally the outer polythene covering was sealed over the joint to form a fully watertight housing.

 

This procedure had to be followed several times between the Beach Joint and the Terminal Station as it was not possible to pull the whole land section length in as one section. Completing the land section took several days.

Jan 30
Locating faults in Undersea Power Cables by using the integral fibres

Introduction

Many of today's Power Cables have integral optical fibres. These fibres are traditionally used for telemetry and communications but can also be very useful for locating cable faults.

A fibre "Fingerprint" should be taken to record the location of any splices or anomalies such as micro-bending in the fibres.  Ideally this should occur early in the life of the Cable System but a "Reference Point" can be established at any time.   Changes that occur thereafter may well be indicative of potential problems.

Regular monitoring of the fibres and careful analysis of the measurements can detect impending failure of the power path. 

Using Fibres to locate faults

There are usually "unused" fibres available within a cable and these can be monitored to identify any change.  They can be safely monitored whilst the cable is still loaded, so no system outage is required whilst surveillance or an investigation takes place. 

Fibres have been used to identify the location of faults on a number of occasions and they can provide a more precise position than using a conventional Time Domain Reflectometer (TDR) directly on the Power conductors.  An Optical Time Domain Reflectometer (OTDR) can measure to within a few metres over a 100 km cable section or greater.  This potential accuracy and range will however depend on the instrument used and the characteristics of the embedded fibres.

Fibres are sensitive to bending which can be detected using a multi-wavelength OTDR.  Their sensitivity to temperature can be used to detect any "hot spots" within a cable.  This can provide an excellent tool for monitoring and locating heat generation within a core which might be causing, or lead to, an electrical breakdown.  Contaminants such as water ingress and hydrogen (which can be produced by electrolysis around a fault where water ingress has occurred) can also be detected, as well as other variables such as fibre strain or vibration.  Early generations of fibre are more susceptible to hydrogen than the modern fibres. Used together these fibre parameters may be used to pin-point any fault to high levels of accuracy.   

Some of the changes that can be identified are very subtle and require specialist analysis to detect them.  As temperature changes can be detected it is important to note any change in condition that may have an effected on the fibre temperature.  Changes to the loading of the power conductors will cause temperature change within the cable.  Changes in sea temperature between summer and winter can also be significant as these cables are usually laid in relatively shallow water.  So this should be assessed and accounted for.

To get the best results an appropriate OTDR should be chosen and the optimum settings should be used on that instrument.  An emulation package will enable the traces to be compared on a PC and this allows the greatest detail to be seen when looking for any changes.  

Cable repairs.

Accurate fault location is critical to successfully complete cable repairs, but it does require time and dedication to achieve a good result.  Outage time for the cable asset and repair vessel time are both significant costs, as is cutting in at the wrong position or utilising more stock cable than is absolutely essential. A few tens of thousand pounds spent on accurate fault location can save hundreds of thousands or even millions of pounds when compared with the cost of failure associated with poor fault pin-pointing.

Currently there are a very limited number of vessels equipped to repair these heavy power cables.  Their availability is an issue and costs are very significant.  Being aware of any impending failure can allow for proactive control of when the repair is implemented and may allow the opportunity to select the best time of the year when weather "down-time" can be minimised.

Summary

  • Many Subsea Power Cables contain fibres.
  • These fibre can be used the detect faults on the Power Conductors.
  • A break in a cable can be located to within a few metres if the fibres are also broken.
  • Inaccurate fault locations can be very expensive.  Investing in specialist help is a wise move.
  • Fibre failures or changes may provide an indication of impending failure of the Power path.
  • The effects of Power Loading can be monitored using the fibres.
  • Hot Spots can be detected and monitored.
  • To get the best results from fibre data, specialist analysis is required and help is available.
  • Proactive monitoring of the cable asset can be very cost effective.

Specialist equipment is available for temperature monitoring and help is available to monitor and analyse these embedded fibres.

Regular monitoring of your cable asset may well reduce the possibility of failure and minimise the costs of a repair if and when it does occur.

 

End

Nov 08
Fault Location on Subsea Power Cables

Introduction

As the number of Submarine Power cables grows alongside the growth of Offshore Renewable Energy installations and Island Interconnects, now seems a good time to offer some comments on Fault Location Techniques. 

Very few submarine cable assets are 100% reliable, planning for failure is essential in order to manage faults when they do occur.  Accurate fault location is critical to successfully complete cable repairs, but it does require time and dedication to achieve a good result. 

Outage time for the cable asset and repair vessel time are both significant costs, as is cutting in at the wrong position or utilising more stock cable than is absolutely essential.  A few tens of thousand pounds spent on accurate fault location can save hundreds of thousands or even millions of pounds when compared with the cost of failure associated with poor fault pin-pointing. 

It is beyond debate that investing in good resource and data acquisition to provide the most precise fault location possible is just good (business) sense.  Experience has shown that no submarine fault is the same, accurate confirmation of the fault position often requires multiple measurements and the use of several different techniques, a few of the more usual techniques are discussed below.

Fault Location Techniques

Time Domain Reflectometer (TDR)

The most widely used device for locating faults on Power Cables is the Time Domain Reflectometer (TDR).  If a fault occurs on a cable there is an impedance change at the location of the fault.  This may be an open circuit, short circuit or a resistance change (usually low insulation)

The TDR sends pulses of electrical energy along the cable and measures the time between the launch of the pulse and the reflection being returned to the instrument from any anomaly along the cable.  This time measurement can be converted to distance if the characteristics of the cable are accurately known.

Significant events like short circuits or open circuits can be easily identified but a breakdown in the insulation can be far more difficult to see.  Whilst TDR is the preferred technique for locating these faults, it should be noted however that these instruments will only locate faults to an accuracy of approximately 1% of the distance to the fault and then only if a narrow pulse-width can be used. Faults that are further away from the location instruments will require more energy to "see" the fault.  Providing greater levels of energy into the cable requires a longer duration pulse which in turn leads to less accurate distance measurement as the pulse-width widens and it is more difficult to pinpoint the details of the reflection.  Capacitance within the cable also causes the pulses to be rounded and attenuated as distance increases.

The best results are obtained where precise "reference data" is available.  This could be a set of detailed measurement taken when the system was installed, after a previous repair or maybe by measurements on an adjacent "good" core in a multi-core cable structure.  Utilising the A-B feature built into most modern machines will give you a straight line if there has been no change or the two cores are identical, but if a fault is present in the cable, will show the anomalies.  Detailed analysis can identify the location of joints or previous repairs and this data can be used to "calibrate" the instrument.  Such detailed measurements will require many averages to be taken and will therefore take a long time.  However there is usually a long period of time between the fault occurrence and the availability of a suitable repair vessel so this is unlikely to be an issue.

Thumping

On land the initial TDR location of a short-circuit fault is usually followed by higher energy "thumping" of the cable and the use of acoustic "listening" devices to pinpoint the actual position at which the breakdown is occurring.  This can be difficult when the cable is below water and often buried within the seabed sediments, although these techniques are improving. 

Electromagnetic Field (Electroding)

An electromagnetic field is produced around a cable when current is flowing through it.  This can be detected and used as a location tool but, unlike telecom cables, the resistance of Power Conductors is very low so a much larger current is required to produce any significant field around the cable. Additionally, power cables generally have a variety of semi-conducting sheaths which can mask the fault location.   Instruments used for telecom cables generally do not produce sufficient signal to be easily detected so a new generation of location machinery is required to be able to produce and detect an electroding signal on Subsea Power Cables.

Electroding is only useful when an approximate location has already been established.  It can be used to identify the location of a shunt fault but, in the case of a power cable fault, it would require the fault to have a very low resistance value to enable a large current to pass through the fault.  The distant end should be left Open-circuit so the only path for the current to flow is across the fault. 

Fibres within Power Cables

Many of today's Power Cables have integral optical fibres. These fibres can be used for telemetry as well as other uses such as temperature monitoring, but can also be very useful for locating cable faults. Fibres are sensitive to bending which can be detected using a multi-wavelength Optical Time Domain Reflectometer (OTDR).  The sensitivity to temperature can be used to detect any "hot spots" within a cable which provides an excellent tool for monitoring and locating heat generation within a core which might be causing a breakdown.  Contaminants such as water ingress and hydrogen (which can be caused by electrolysis around a fault where water has entered the cable) can also be detected, as well as other variables such as fibre strain, or vibration, which can also assist pin-pointing the fault to high levels of accuracy.

Fibres have been used to identify the location of faults on a number of occasions and they can provide a more precise position as OTDR's can measure to within a few metres over a 100 km cable section or greater depending on the instrument used and the fibre characteristics.

Fibres can be safely monitored whilst the cable is still loaded and so no system outage is required whilst any investigation takes place.  There are usually "unused" fibres available within a cable and these can be monitored to identify any change.

Identifying the root cause of failure

When a low insulation fault occurs there may be many reasons that could have caused this breakdown. It can be caused by a manufacturing fault, by poor cable handling during installation, by external aggression to name but a few.  It is therefore good practice to minimise high energy techniques during testing as these, whilst making the fault easier to locate, may cause additional damage to the cable making it more difficult to confirm the root cause of the failure.

Preventative maintenance

Regular monitoring of integral fibres may provide warning of an impending failure of the power conductors.  OTDR measurements showing changes along the fibres may well lead to a very precise location of any failure.

Digital Temperature Sensing (DTS) can also show the possibility of an impending failure as "hot spots" can be identified and enable the loading of the system to be readjusted to prolong its life and enable a planned repair to take place prior to any catastrophic failure.

It is understood that such monitoring would be impractical on many Wind Farm installations but regular monitoring of the Export Cables could prove to be beneficial.

Summary

  • Locating faults on Subsea Cables can be very difficult.
  • The use of multiple techniques may be required to refine & pin-point the fault location.
  • Inaccuracy can prove very expensive as outage and repair ship times are extended. Additional "Stock Cable and accessories" may be required to effect a repair if faults are not accurately located.
  • Investment in good fault location will save costs before, during and after the repair.
  • Current 'Telecom' Electroding techniques are prone to issues on power cables.  The instruments are designed for use on Telecom cables and require further development to be reliably effective on Power cables
  • Regular monitoring of integral fibres could identify potential problems before they cause failures.
  • Many new cable owning companies may not have sufficient internal experience to fault locate subsea faults effectively, and staff churn may make it difficult for owners to keep skilled and proficient employees in post.
  • Specialist techniques may help locate the failures more accurately, cost effectively and quickly.

Conclusions

Measuring, storing and routinely refreshing detailed TDR & OTDR "fingerprints" of new or repaired cables may assist in locating future failures. 

Accurate and detailed optical fibre data may help to predict the location of Electrical faults before they fail and pin-point the failure position when they do.

Routine monitoring of fibres to identify potential issues before they become failures allows owners some choice to manage and potentially dramatically reduce the cost of failure allowing 'planned' repairs to be considered instead of suffering more significant costs associated with repairing an 'unplanned' fault.

Digital Temperature Monitoring (DTS) is a technology which should be carefully considered for all "new builds", and its retro-fitment on existing assets may prove beneficial.  It may be useful to manage the loading of the cable during operation and may be especially useful if "Hot Spots" are identified.

When failures do occur in Subsea plant it will be expensive, investment in suitable experienced specialist help may save significant costs.

 

 

End

Sep 14
UK-Belgium 5 - First Optical Fibre Submarine Cable System (1986-2005)

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Sep 12
UK-Belgium 3 (1972-1992)

This system was the first 14 Mhz Analogue Submarine Cable System connecting Broadstairs on the South-East coast of the UK with Ostend in Belgium. The system was capable of carrying 1260 simultaneous telephone conversations (21 Supergroups) over a single Coaxial cable. The system used a single Coaxial Tube to carry the transmissions in both directions.  The Lower Band (312Khz - 6 Mhz) carrying traffic from Broadstairs to Ostend and the Upper Band (7Mhz - 14 Mhz) brought the receive path back to the UK.  DC Power was applied to the Centre Conductor of the Cable and this was used to supply the Undersea Amplifiers.  Each Amplifier was equipped with a High-pass and Low-pass filter to seperate the two directions of transmission and seperate amplifiers, one for each direction of transmission, were held within each repeater housing.  Pilot signals were inserted below the lowest frequency and above the highest frequency to allow monitoring of the system performance.  Additional Supervisory signals were used below the Traffic and Pilot Signals to enable supervision of the Repeater Amplifier Circuits.  These supervisory signals were transmitted in the low-band and circuits within the repeaters returned them in the high-band.  Loop-backs could be initiated at each repeater so it was possible to established in which cable section a cable break had occurred.  

Below is a photograph of the Terminal Equipment

 

 

 In the photograph above:-

From right to left

  • The rack on the far right-hand side of the photo housed the "Supergroup Limiters".  These cards at the top of the bay protected the system from any High Level signal causing an overload across the whole of the traffic path.  Each individual Supergroup (60 Channels) was monitored before it was multiplexed into the Wideband and if an excessively high level signal was present on any of those Channels the whole 60 circuits band was compressed to ensure that it did not interfere with all the remaining traffic.  An alarm was raised to indicate the affected Supergroup.
    • The lower section of the rack was the multplexing equipment used to combine the 21 Supergroups into the 6 Mhz band for transmission to Ostend and demodulate the Receive signals returning from Belgium.
  • The second rack seen is the "Wideband Bay".  This bay comprised of cards to equalises the levels of the Passband 300Khz - 6 Mhz of the Transmit path and 7 - 14 Mhz on the Receive Path.  The two transmission paths were combined and fed across a single Coaxial Cable.  Pilot Meters can be seen.  These enabled the transmission performance to be monitored across the transmission bands.  Adjustments were necessary to compensate for Sea Temperature changes.  Adjustments could be made in 0.5 dB steps and this was sometimes necessary several times per week.  The equaliser switches can be seen next to the Pilot Monitors.  Pen recorders were also used to record the system performance over time.  These can be seen in the lower part if the bay.
  • The third rack housed the communications shelf which enable the two terminals Broadstairs and Ostend to talk whilst making the necessary adjustments.  A system "Noise Monitor" can be seen above the handset shelf.
  • The fourth rack was the Submerged Repeater Monitoring Equipment (SRME).  This allowed the supervision of the performance of the Sea Bed Repeaters.  Any deterioration of the amplifier circuits could be detected as could an any additional loss in the cable. 
    • A frequency counter (using Nixie Tubes) can been seen.  This was used to set the supervisory frequency for each individual repeater.
    • Below the frequency counter was a mechanically driven sweep oscillator.  This enabled a weekly supervisory run to be performed to plot any deterioration within submerged plant.

 

To the left of the SRME bay is a duplication of a very similar rack layout but this time for the Broadstairs - Domburg System (UK-Netherlands 9)