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Remote off-grid power provides road network security

16 March 2014

Around 4,300 miles of motorways and trunk roads make up the strategic road network in England. It’s important that key parts of this network are constantly monitored to prevent disruption to the flow of traffic that can be caused by bad weather, accidents and breakdowns. Strategically placed CCTV surveillance equipment provides real-time information to Regional Control Centres (RCC) throughout the UK, alerting agencies to trouble spots. 

The fuel cell (left cabinet) essentially acts as a self-contained battery charger for a single 12-volt battery (right cabinet). It is set to automatically start up and recharge the battery to its optimum floating voltage of 12.5V
The fuel cell (left cabinet) essentially acts as a self-contained battery charger for a single 12-volt battery (right cabinet). It is set to automatically start up and recharge the battery to its optimum floating voltage of 12.5V

Security alerts also pose another threat to the UK road networks. A terrorist attack on one of the UK’s major highways, tunnels or bridges could be devastating. Transportation networks are potentially attractive targets due to their accessibility and the impact on human lives and economic disruption an attack could have.

In September 2013, the Dartford Crossing was closed due to a suspect package reported on board a coach. This caused a full-scale emergency, leading to traffic chaos on the M25 as both tunnels and the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge were closed, trapping motorists for more than seven hours and causing nine-mile tailbacks. 

Audio and video surveillance has become commonplace because it’s a cost-effective way of protecting assets and people. However, one of the problems that security experts face in deploying stationary or portable CCTV in remote locations is that there is often no access to grid electricity.

Having considered all other options, Simulation Systems Ltd (SSL) chose a fuel cell as the best solution for maintaining CCTV coverage in areas remote from accessible mains power supplies. SSL asked UPS Systems – and its subsidiary company Fuel Cell Systems (FCS) - to supply a fuel cell solution to ensure its CCTV remained constantly operational. 

The requirement
With heightened security measures in place during last year’s Olympic Games, Simulation Systems was asked to provide several off-grid CCTV cameras along strategic road networks and bridges in the UK to help deter potential terrorist threats.

A busy junction along the M6 motorway in the West Midlands with over 500 concrete columns supporting several slipways, flyovers and sections of motorway required monitoring. 

Located on several supporting pillars beneath flyovers, the CCTV cameras were unable to use solar PV panels to keep the battery supply topped up due to a lack of direct sunlight. Intermittent wind meant that micro-wind turbines would also prove ineffective. 

Connection to the grid was prohibitively expensive with costs of £55,000 to £70,000 being quoted. Furthermore, this option came with serious timescale implications as connection could take up to two years. 

The solution
UPS Systems and FCS provided an EFOY Pro 2200 fuel cell, which essentially acted as a self-contained battery charger for a single 12-volt battery. It was used to provide power for the CCTV cameras, a 3G interface and IT routers. Two 28-litre containers of methanol were also provided to supply the fuel cell. 

The fuel cell is designed to automatically start up and re-charge the battery to its optimum floating voltage of 12.5V, ensuring it is always kept at full capacity.  

REMO Live is a diagnostic aid for standby power equipment developed in-house by experts at UPS Systems. With access through a secure web-based platform, REMO Live allows the condition of the battery to be remotely monitored along with temperature and methanol fuel levels. 

The benefits
The compact and virtually silent-running fuel cell was supplied with its own self-contained methanol fuel supply, allowing the system to be left for well over ten weeks before replacement fuel was required.

This significantly reduced the number of costly field maintenance visits required to replace discharged batteries. The CCTV cameras remained in constant operation and provided continuous surveillance for one of the UK’s busiest road junctions. 

Fuel cells are virtually emission-free and are compact enough to fit easily inside standard sized weatherproof cabinets. With few moving parts, fuel cells require little maintenance. This makes them a more efficient and reliable power source with lower lifetime costs than traditional generators.

As an alternative to batteries and traditional generators, fuel cell power can provide a reliable off-grid supply for security applications for weeks on end. Fuel cells also offer a much better solution than traditional generators, especially where there is a need for covert installations for undercover surveillance.

Fuel cells will produce power 24/7 regardless of the weather conditions (unlike some renewable energy alternatives). This makes them viable for off-grid CCTV surveillance and security applications, as well as standby power. As long as there is an ample supply of fuel, a fuel cell will supply power for as long as it is needed.

The client’s perspective
SSL is located in Bristol and, had the power supply been based on conventional batteries, its maintenance teams would have faced 200 mile return trips to the West Midlands every couple of days to replace discharged units. The fuel cell thus saved SSL a considerable amount of time and money, as it essentially looks after itself and isn’t affected by its environment, unlike other sources of power such as solar panels or wind turbines. 

“As no one in the industry at this time was using fuel cell technology for this particular application, we were very keen to see how it performed under strenuous conditions," said an SSL spokesperson. "After determining the static load on the battery, we intentionally pushed the fuel cell to capacity in order to ascertain its capability. It was in operation for over twelve hours a day, every one and a half days. The twelve-volt battery was generating 110W and drawing 9-10A so it was working hard. 

“A major benefit was that, via the REMO Live tool, text alerts were sent to a mobile phone the moment the battery or fuel cell fell outside normal operating parameters. In this event, we could have despatched a maintenance team instantly to resolve the problem.”

Simulation Systems has been so impressed with the results that it is now looking at integrating off-grid fuel cell technology at notorious accident black spots along busy stretches of the UK’s road network.


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