Like any emergency room, the most critical cases are attended to first, and more tests can be ordered to make a more accurate diagnosis.
It can sometimes make for an intense work day, he concedes. But until his first child arrives in October, the grid is his baby – indeed his personal hobbies include reading technical articles about power systems and new technologies.
Condition monitoring affords the grid an additional layer of insurance over scheduled maintenance, making it even more reliable, says Dr Lai.
According to Dr Lai, an average of 70 potential problems have been avoided each year over the last five years.
And unlike scheduled maintenance work which may require a piece of equipment to be taken out of service to be checked, repaired, or replaced, this pre-emptive approach is non-invasive, requiring no shutdowns. In the long run, keeping the health of a piece of equipment in check also means it lasts longer, he says.
More companies are now catching on to these benefits, says Dr Lai, adding that he had trouble finding a job specifically in condition monitoring until he joined SP, a big believer in “preventive medicine”.
Online monitoring is also continuously leveraged by SP for the larger 400kV and 230kV substations that make up Singapore’s transmission network, with sensors transmitting real-time data to Dr Lai’s lab.
New technologies that can make the grid more robust are also regularly assessed, adds Dr Lai, also a “doctor-on-call” for casual queries from other departments, thanks to friendships forged with colleagues through weekly badminton sessions.
Getting to the root of the problem is one of the things he relishes most about his role in SP’s network reliability, especially since diagnosis can be as much of an art as a science, and prompts spirited debates.
“You need to be able to look beyond the obvious with data. Every single case is different, requiring both tools and thinking.
That is the challenge that I love.”
— 13 June 2019