Every utility company faces a different set of challenges depending on the scale of its operations, customer base and business methods. One problem that providers often have in common, however, is corrosion. Ahead of his appearance in the corrosion stream at Asset Management for Critical Infrastructure, running from 12-13 September in Sydney, Jim Hickey, Electrolysis Engineering Officer at Ausgrid, discusses the critical significance of corrosion and common mistakes he sees with its maintenance.

he costs of damage, accidents and production losses related to corrosion are vast. NACE International’s 2016 International Measures of Prevention, Application and Economics of Corrosion Technology (IMPACT) study estimated the global cost of corrosion to be US$2.5 trillion (AU$3.2 trillion), or roughly 3.4 per cent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product, of which 15-35 per cent (AU$490-$1,140 billion) was avoidable via effective corrosion prevention strategies¹.

Mr Hickey is well acquainted with the uphill battle against corrosion that utility companies face.

As an Australasian Corrosion Association (ACA) Corrosion Technologist, he has almost four decades of experience in the power utility industry and is a specialist in corrosion protection system interference assessment.

Mr Hickey is one of four corrosion experts that will explore key asset management issues on the corrosion panel at the 2018 Asset Management for Critical Infrastructure Conference this September at Swissötel in Sydney.

He joins fellow panelists Andrew Jones, Senior Asset Integrity Engineer at CNC Project Management; Brad Dockrill, Partner/Director, Vinsi Partners Consulting Engineers; and Simon Krismer, Principal Consultant at Krismer Consulting.

The panel will examine the importance of correctly identifying environmental corrosion conditions, material selection and design criteria for corrosion prevention, examples of various corrosion problems, and more.

“Corrosion is one of the main threats to the longevity and integrity of utility assets. Managers have to use a proactive and long-term maintenance approach for these systems if they want to protect their assets,” Mr Hickey said.  

Corrosion is only one targeted stream at the Asset Management for Critical Infrastructure Conference, with delegates also having the opportunity to learn in-depth about trenchless technologies, renewables infrastructure and asset management in the rail sector in these targeted streams.

This is in addition to individual presentations covering all aspects of the asset management sector across utilities and infrastructure, including sustainability, ISO 55001, asset management in the changing electricity sector, examples of trading risk for cost, digital twins and IoT techniques, and developing strategic asset management plans.

Know the sources

Prevention and rehabilitation of corrosion will virtually always put less of a strain on organisations, communities and the environment compared to rebuilding. Mr Hickey said if an organisation wants to create an effective prevention plan, the first step is to understand where the problem comes from.

Sources of corrosion range from less-aggressive general atmospheric corrosion, to more aggressive galvanic corrosion, where electrical contact between different metals can cause rapid deterioration of the more active metal. The most destructive form of corrosion, however, is caused by stray current from DC power sources.

Electrical current can leak from the power systems of electrified trains or industrial facilities and affect other structures, such as buried pipelines and cables that are nowhere near the source.

“The most severe corrosion has been caused by stray current emitted from electrified traction systems,” Mr Hickey said. “Large magnitude DC current can dissolve metallic structures at extremely elevated rates.”

Part of the issue with assessing risk is a simple lack of visibility. It’s common to underestimate the seriousness of corrosion with assets that aren’t readily accessible.

“It is far too easy for asset managers to divert blame for corrosion-related failures of underground and submerged assets to natural, unforeseen circumstances,” Mr Hickey said.

Even if corrosion is effectively handled, it’s important for companies to fully understand its unrelenting nature. If they don’t, they may cut spending in the wrong place and expose themselves to serious consequences in the future.

“When electrolysis corrosion is well managed, corrosion maintenance budgets unfortunately often become targets for cost savings. Organisations mistake low failure rates for low risk,” Mr Hickey said.

Protection competition

Another challenge in the fight against corrosion is the presence of neighbouring assets which may compete for protection rights.

“Since all assets share the same ground, limitations may be applied on the application of corrosion prevention measures such as cathodic protection so as not to adversely affect other assets in the vicinity,” Mr Hickey said.

“If a nearby asset (e.g. explosive contents such as high pressure gas or aerofuel pipelines) is deemed more critical, your ability to adequately protect your asset may be restricted.”

Utility companies can mitigate asset protection conflicts by implementing asset management plans that have organisation-wide integration and support.

When thinking strategically about corrosion plans, Mr Hickey advises asset managers to focus on two elements as priorities: continuous monitoring of an asset’s condition and performance, and quality design.

“Good design is always the best approach in achieving the expected life of assets. Such design should include a recommended maintenance plan to be carried out by competent staff.”

Today’s utility industry has the capability to accurately assess long-term degradation and implement productive maintenance solutions.

While initial challenges may arise with constructing a thorough plan and integrating it with organisational policy, the cost and safety risks associated with the unforeseen corrosion-related failure of an asset are far more substantial.

Hear from more asset management experts

Mr Hickey will join a high-quality lineup of speakers across the utility and infrastructure sectors at Asset Management for Critical Infrastructure 2018 to discuss the most pressing
issues in asset management.

Speakers include:

Kerry Brown, Professor Of Employment and Industry, Edith Cowan University

Rami Affan, Executive Director, Asset Management, Infrastructure NSW

Paul Higham, Head of Service Planning & Asset Strategy, Sydney Water

Dr Lutfiye Manli, Senior Asset Management Strategy Advisor, Powerlink Queensland

David Singleton AM, Independent Director and Chair, Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia

Andrew O’Connor, Partner – Engineering and Asset Management, KPMG Australia

Bonnie Ryan, Senior Manager, GS1 Australia

Scott Stevens, Principal Engineer Civil, Operations & Service Delivery, Queensland Urban Utilities

And many more

View the full program and speaker list at

Early bird prices end 17 August


Lauren ‘LJ’ Butler is the Assistant Editor of Utility magazine and has been part of the team at Monkey Media since 2018.

After completing a Bachelor of Media, Communications and Professional Writing at the University of Wollongong in 2014, and prior to writing about the utility sector, LJ worked as a Journalist and Sub Editor across the horticulture, hardware, power equipment, construction and accommodation industries with publishers such as Glenvale Publications, Multimedia Publishing and Bean Media Group.

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