Low-orbit satellites help out electrical crews

Wednesday, 15 May, 2024

Low-orbit satellites help out electrical crews

SA Power Networks is now utilising Starlink — the low-orbit satellite communication system owned by Elon Musk’s aerospace company SpaceX — to provided internet connectivity in areas where it was previously not available. The network said it is the first energy distributor in Australia to do so.

Internet connectivity is crucial to maintaining the electricity network, with crews using it to coordinate safe switching and other key tasks.

“We’re already witnessing game-changing accessibility, performance and safety benefits,” said Paul Salter, Head of Powerline & Electrical Services at SA Power Networks.

“Regional crews can now access consistent high-speed internet from anywhere at any time, making it faster and safer to carry out restoration and maintenance tasks and to keep the business and customers informed of their progress.”

As part of a pilot project last year, SA Power Networks fitted 11 vehicles with Starlink systems, Salter said. This included elevated work platform (EWP) trucks based at Wudinna, Port Pirie, Yorketown and Kingscote depots. “We’re now moving to fit more than 150 of our vehicles with the technology by the end of 2024.”

Because Starlink’s thousands of satellites are positioned only about 550 km from Earth, the latency — ie, the round-trip data time between the user and satellite — is significantly lower than it is with traditional satellites, which are about 35,786 km away.

According to SA Power Networks, with a Starlink antenna attached to their vehicles, all crew members need is a clear view of the sky and Wi-Fi mode on their devices and they can receive faster internet than most people get in their homes (the speed is up to 500 times faster than the technology used in the past by the energy distributor).

Salter said the technology has been game changing for SA Power Networks’ customers as well, with outage times significantly reduced now that crews no longer have to drive 20 minutes away from a job in order to get internet or phone reception.

Starlink enables constant contact with crews as they traverse the state, giving leaders peace of mind about their safety. This also means that real-time safety information is consistently available to everyone who needs it, especially during emergency response situations such as storms or bushfires.


Top image credit: iStock.com/Chris McDougall

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