Deregulation Key to SCADA/EMS Growth
By Steven Wood, Associate Editor
Through the years, SCADA/EMS has grown into a mature system providing valuable information and operational procedures to utility system operators. The SCADA/EMS systems have progressed from being large mainframe computer systems to today`s super fast PCs. The systems that were used in the past were closed-architecture systems, meaning that any sort of update or modifications often required a total reworking of the system. Any modifications to the systems were costly and very time consuming. Utilities were constantly replacing old systems with new systems. The process was very limiting and utilities were not ready to participate in it.
The greatest change for SCADA/EMS has been the introduction of open architecture. GE Harris is one company that is embracing the open architecture concept. Instead of requiring all the systems and software to be GE Harris based, open architecture has provided an easier avenue to setting up a new system. Built on popular platforms and scalable architecture, the systems are easier to implement, have a shorter training time, and the users tend to be more familiar with the operating systems according to GE Harris.
SCADA/EMS technology has progressed tremendously the last couple of decades. Moving from dumb RTUs and mainframes to microcomputers and micro-processor-based RTUs, one of the latest advancements deals with client-server technology. This allows for segregation of components and the implementation of wide area network distribution of system networks. This migration to PC-based operating platforms has made the system much more user friendly and has opened the door to a larger amount of automation, especially in the distribution area. “Most utilities have not necessarily been looking to update their systems but rather, to find a way to meld the existing technologies with current and future technologies,” said Ron Maugeri, Motorola fixed data team. “Open architecture remains to be a prime driving force for migration to current and future systems.”
After several years of steady growth, the market for SCADA/EMS is experiencing very little growth. In fact, except for the cooperatives, most utilities are taking a cautious approach to major expenditures due to deregulation. According to Maugeri, “It`s mostly a wait-and-see until deregulation settles itself out. Those that do know are looking for ways to reduce costs by combining their existing systems together if not upgrading them through migration plans.” This has caused any expenditures in this area to be put on hold.
Don Might, GE Harris Energy Control Systems product manager, said that he sees a new growth area for SCADA/EMS. He believes that the emerging ISOs and resulting new Power Grids will open a new market for SCADA/EMS. As this new market opens up, the industry will move “more towards emphasizing the distribution part of the system.”
Deregulation has and will continue to have an impact on SCADA/EMS. Metering technology has become one of the most important expenditures for most utilities at this time, representing the greatest source of continued revenue. Even though metering is the prime focus of most utilities, as the need to guarantee reliable power becomes a reality, SCADA/EMS will become increasingly important once again. “Currently the utilities are in somewhat of a volatile market, until all the states finish their deregulation process,” said Maugeri. “Once the process nears completion, growth will occur simply because of the choices deregulation brings to the consumer. Of course, this is still a wait-and-see game to see what actually occurs on a state-by-state basis.” Those not effected by deregulation will see very little incentive to improve their SCADA/EMS systems unless the systems are simply out of date. Maugeri added, “We would expect it to grow because many of the systems, especially in the cooperative market, have very little, if any, automation at all.” GE Harris` Might though believes that the nontraditional areas for SCADA/EMS will become the strong market for his products.
Industry In Flux
The three utility markets–municipals, cooperatives and investor-owned utilities–are showing differences in their views toward SCADA/EMS, according to several industry experts. Those effected by deregulation will be slow to update anything except for items directly related to customer service and metering. The reality though is that there will also be a great concern for the reliability and quality of power, as well as reduced costs. As this concern grows, buying electricity from a reliable source will become more important. A reliable source of electricity must have the means to regulate and control power quality.
Coops Show Greatest Interest
SCADA/EMS systems are being embraced more by cooperatives than by any other utility market. Alabama Electric Cooperative (AEC) is one such utility preparing to compete in the deregulated environment. AEC is an integrated generation and transmission utility that serves 21 member cooperatives that distribute power to more than 300,000 customers throughout 36,000 square miles across 39 Alabama counties and 10 Florida counties. To help improve service to their members and ultimately improve service and reliability for the communities their members serve, AEC recently began implementation of a wireless packet data network to enable the utility to monitor power demand and control supply in real time while automating data collection using a wide mix of communications.
An energy imbalance, whether under or over the generation requirement, results in contract violations, which can impact profitability and ultimately cause higher power costs for customers.
AEC invested in the data network in part to meet a provision of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which requires that power companies generate enough power to cover their demand. With the 1996 FERC ruling that redefined the energy imbalance limit from 3 percent to 1.5 percent, the 2,079 mile power network needed a more accurate measure of customer demand than the traditional approach of estimating leads based on historical trends and limited SCADA points. In addition, meter readings from AEC`s 261 substations needed to be automated instead of collected by hand to speed billing processes and improve accuracy.
To measure power demands from AEC`s substations in real time, AEC used Motorola`s MOSCAD fixed packet data network. This technology will enable AEC to more easily manage its electric generation with the required limits and help to avoid contract violations.
The system will utilize 900 MHz multiple address systems (MAS), UHF radio, VSAT satellite, microwave, spread spectrum radio and dial-up systems to create a seamless network connecting multiple types of media across a vast geographic area.
The network extends communications to substations beyond the reach of AEC`s current Motorola 2 GHz microwave system. Eventually the network will serve as a backbone for their member cooperatives to access information and automate their distribution networks, further improving satisfaction to the ultimate consumer.
There will probably be an increase in implementation for SCADA/EMS systems in the future, as deregulation opens up new ISO and Power Grid markets. Cooperatives will also prove to be a viable market as SCADA/EMS prices drop and scalability issues are resolved. “Deregulation is going to have a major impact on the utility market and the services they offer,” said Maugeri. “Once the shake down cruise is over and the dust settles, SCADA will play an even more important part of their business than it does today. It is important to recognize that the utility market over the past few years is evolving from a regulated monopolistic industry to one of a competitive nature. This is something new for these companies and they are now playing in a game that they are not used to, the competitive market. Once deregulation ends and the utility companies choose the role they want to play it will force some of them to be more cost conscience as far as delivering customer service. Consumers will no longer be locked into a single provider but will have the option to shop their business to many providers. This means, in order to survive the utility will have to offer better service at a very competitive price.” Utilities will have a renewed interest in SCADA/EMS as it moves to a PC-based environment. Lower prices and improved reliability will entice utilities to invest in SCADA/EMS, ultimately improving their customer relations. As the deregulation issues are unraveled, the SCADA/EMS market will rebound, but might still take a back seat to increasing interest in metering.