Data mart gives new spin to coal-fired data

Dana Bacciocco, Associate Editor

After controlling the controllables, like buying, moving, blending, timing and burning, coal-fired generation plants are left building masses of data in disparate systems, according to Suzanne Shea, executive vice president and co-founder of Praxis Engineers. Although it’s important that systems remember what happened (data), the key is to use data to increase efficiency-inspecting information to detect trends, patterns, and influence results. Power plants need a catalyst that will speed transformation of current and historical data into information and provide access to managers, engineers, and decision makers to enhance operating efficiency and improve overall plant performance and profitability at coal-fired facilities.

According to Praxis Engineers, a growing trend is the development of data marts for departmental-level data and larger data warehouses containing enterprise-level data. Reporting and analysis demand clean, timely, comprehensive data. Systems and formats of data repositories have been independently developed for financial, scientific, maintenance and operational areas, for example. While data is available, it is not always accessible or meaningful beyond the core group of collectors and specialists. But as businesses grow and change and departments become interdependent upon each other, information needs to be translated with integrity and analyzed quickly for different users.

A platform-independent information technology (IT) catalyst should integrate all kinds of data, anticipate requirements with scheduled reports and formats, and adapt to provide answers to questions that come up after the fact, i.e. provide for ad hoc reports, and provide access to a wide range of users in a friendly format. Key characteristics of this kind of IT are:

  • To assist in monitoring technical and economic performance by combining and cleaning data, producing scheduled and on-demand reports, and automating input and output.
  • To decrease response time and increase corporate maneuverability by performing real-time and ongoing information analyses for operators, engineers, and decision makers.

The Web is becoming the electronic information vernacular, with its familiar point-and-click atmosphere, quick and clear information posting, and convenient access-inside and outside the office through a personal computer (PC) or laptop. Praxis embraced this technology with its Web-based management information system enabling utilities to efficiently share plant and corporate-level data in-house and from remote locations.

TVA adds value

“DataFuser is a sophisticated, next-generation management tool that unlocks valuable plant and corporate data from existing proprietary information systems and allows power producers to better manage that knowledge to improve profitability,” said Shea.

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) the nation’s largest public power company, is currently using Praxis’ DataFuser to manage information at all 11 of its coal-fired power plants throughout its seven-state service area in the southeastern U.S. Since 1997, TVA and Praxis have worked together to develop DataFuser under the real-world conditions of functioning coal-fired power plants. TVA’s participation has added a dimension of intellectual value to the program. Value that can be tailored to different plants’ needs or operations.

TVA sought an advanced system of performance reporting, although they had individual equipment and performance tools that stored data and produced mainframe reports. They found the solution through IT improvement, which, in turn, expedited processes, used fewer personnel, sped up reporting and enhanced analyses.

Bruce Russell-Jayne, TVA project manager said that TVA underwent a major process change in redirecting people into groups focused on production and operation, and increased analysis. TVA moved to a cross-functional perspective, concentrating on root cause discovery and preventive tactics.

Russell-Jayne said the overall concept is to get information in front of operators, to increase awareness and stimulate the drive for improvements. True savings is through process and attitude changes, he added.

DataFuser has increased accessibility for TVA personnel. While TVA has about 1,700 PC users with the system, the goal is to shift to the Web-based system which does not require installation on user PCs, and increases the number of users who can access it via the Web, also making upgrades easier. According to Russell-Jayne, TVA is planning universal access throughout the division-for nearly 4000 people.

TVA feeds the DataFuser data warehouse with existing systems, like automated vibration meter reading systems, and other data acquisition devices and platforms throughout the company, noting that more data acquisition can be added in the future, through further interfaces and uploading tools.

And while the data warehouse concept is not the only way to share data, there are other specialized performance applications should become universally accessible. The data warehouse concept has the potential to add functionality, like a smart interface that acts as a search engine to find data from other sources.

Shea is executive vice president and co-founder of Praxis Engineers Inc. in Milpitas, Calif., a market leader in coal-blending technology. She can be reached at suzanne@praxisengineers.com.

Russell-Jayne is TVA Project Manager and can be reached at brrussell-jayne@tva.gov.

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