With the help of sensors and a computer dashboard for tracking status of electrical devices, a team at MIT has designed a non-intrusive load monitoring (NILM) system that will detect electrical failures before it even occurs.
At the heart of the system is a sensor which is mounted on the outside of a single wire, which does not have be cut or spliced, within an electrical circuit.
The sensor then monitors the current passing through the wire and tracks the activity of various devices that are running on that circuit. The sensor is able to do so based on the fluctuations in the current that occur whenever each device switches on or off.
The system is not only able to determine when and if each device is running, but also it the device is drawing more current than normal. The latter factor could mean that the device has become defective.
The data is then passed on to a central computer where an onscreen dashboard features dials for each device. If the needle on any one device’s dial is in the green zone, it shows that everything is normal. But, if the needle swings over to the yellow or red zones, it indicates that user attention is required.
Moreover, the data passing on is done so through a hard-wired connection, although it can also be operated wirelessly. The system does not require any internet, so the communications network is unlikely to be hacked.
The system has been earlier tested on a ship where two of the NILM sensors were used to monitor around 20 different devices. When it was discovered that a ‘jacket water heater’ on one of the diesel engines was drawing suspicious amount of power, the team investigated.
As they removed the heater’s cover, smoke poured out, with severe corrosion and broken insulation too. If it wasn’t discovered in right time, the heater could have caused an electrical fire.