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Is the world's electrical infrastructure reaching the end of its life?

Published: 27 June 2007

A conference being hosted in July by the School of Electronics and Computer Science will have great significance for the world's electrical supply industries.

At the 9th Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) International Conference on Solid Dielectrics, being hosted by ECS and held in Winchester from 8-13 July, physicists, chemists, material scientists and electrical engineers from around the world will gather together to discuss the future of dielectrics or electrical insulation.

According to the Conference Chair, Dr Paul Lewin of ECS, one of the big issues to be addressed is how we determine the condition of the insulation materials used in high voltage systems, a topic that is of crucial importance to the future of electrical transmission and distribution systems around the world.

'Most of the UK's power systems were installed in the 1960s, with a lifespan that was estimated at the time to be about 40 years,' he said. 'Our current challenge is to ensure continuity of supply by finding ways to predict when a piece of kit will fail.'

The conference will be opened by a keynote address entitled Ageing, Space Charge and Nanodielectrics: Ten Things We Don't Know About Dielectrics to be delivered by Professor John Fothergill from the University of Leicester on Monday 9 July.

As the name of this E O Forster Memorial Lecture suggests, Professor Fothergill will highlight the need for academics working in the field of dielectrics to be able to establish the age of a system and devise techniques for checking the state of ageing systems while they are in service. He will also explore the potential for the use of new insulation materials, like nanodielectrics.

In a full programme of presentations, 20 of which will be delivered by academics from the University of Southampton, the future of dielectrics will be explored.

'We know that many parts of the UK system are probably nearing the end of their useful life,' said Dr George Chen of ECS. 'We can replace them, but the costs are enormous so, not surprisingly, the industry wants to get the best value out of what it has already installed. What we really need to do is understand how to tell when a transformer or a cable is about to fail, so that it can be replaced just in time, minimizing the inconvenience and the cost to consumers.'

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