Electric Utilities Continue to Make Strong Investments in Automation

Electric Utilities Continue to Make Strong Investments in Automation

By Shannon Parsons, PennWell Research

Electric utilities in the United States and Canada are planning 333 SCADA system projects over the next two years. The projects are valued at more than $315 million. And, 64 projects have budgets exceeding $1 million. These projects and others are described in a series of detailed reports published by PennWell Research.

In addition to the SCADA report, PennWell Research has also completed the electric utility AM/FM/GIS report, the DA report, the Load Management report and the AMR report, which were all published in June and July of 1996.

The focus group for these studies includes 1,452 electric utilities. The nation`s largest utilities and a sampling of smaller utilities were contacted by PennWell Research. The research analysts interviewed engineering managers and other decision makers to uncover specific plans for new SCADA, RTU and PLC add-ons, AM/FM/GIS systems, map conversion projects, DA projects, load management projects and AMR systems.

These specific plans contain detailed information, including type of system, operating platform and number of system components (RTUs, PLCs and CRTs). In addition, utility contacts are surveyed on planned communication projects, use of system consultants, mapboard installations and their preferred system vendors.

Control Systems

Figure 1 illustrates planned electric system projects by value and represents an interesting finding. The majority of project dollars is budgeted for projects that are $5 million and more, which represents 43 percent of the total value of planned projects. System projects estimated in the $1 million to $4,999,999 category followed closely with 34 percent of the total value.

Results of this study also indicate that electric utilities having a peak load of 500 MW and more plan to spend the most for SCADA system projects, valued at $204,250,000. Utilities of this size category alone plan to spend nearly 65 percent more than all categories combined. Utilities with peak loads in the 200 to 499 MW category constitute the second largest group in terms of planned system projects by total value. In addition, electric utilities are budgeting more than $31 million for 156 RTU/PLC add-on projects, almost $2 million for consulting, $1 million for mapboard projects and $23 million for communication projects over the next two years.

Among other specific information, both the SCADA and AM/FM/GIS system reports identify existing and planned operating platforms. For SCADA, PC-based systems comprise 58 percent of the total planned system projects. Workstations will be used in 22 percent of the planned electric utility projects, followed by minicomputers with 19 percent and mainframes with 1 percent of the projects. Furthermore, for AM/FM/GIS, PC-based systems comprise 86 percent of the total planned system projects. Workstations will be used in 13 percent of the planned electric utility projects, closing up with mainframes holding 1 percent.

Respectively, for both SCADA and AM/FM/GIS there was a slight increase in the use of PC-based systems from the 1995 reports. Over the years, PennWell Research has followed the slow decline of the mainframe-based computers and monitored the narrowing area between PC- and UNIX-based workstation platform systems. The trend toward low-end systems is clear. PC-based systems may hold 90 percent of the installed base within two to three years.


In addition to the technology of computerized control systems, electric utilities benefit from AM/FM/GIS systems. PennWell Research analysts identified 249 AM/FM/GIS system projects valued at more than $209.8 million, as listed in PennWell Research`s “1996 Electric Utility Automated Mapping/ Facilities Management/Geographic Information Systems Market Data Report.” This study also uncovered add-on, conversion and consultant projects. The value of the planned system projects by cost category is illustrated in Figure 2, which shows that 3 percent of the total number of planned projects fall within the $3 million or more category. This category also comprises 39 percent of the total value of planned dollars. Forty percent of the system projects in the “less than $50,000” category make up only 4 percent of the overall value of system projects.

Figure 3 represents the results of the questionnaire on technical features for AM/FM/GIS. Utility managers noted that “Ease of Operation,” or “A” as it is pictured in Figure 3, was considered to be the most important feature of an AM/FM/GIS system. This feature, or the ability to have a system that is easily understood, received an average ranking of 6.3 (on a scale of 1 to 7) among the 64 respondents. Ranking second behind “Ease of Operation” was “Menu-Driven System” (B) with a 5.9 rating. Tying for third was “Open Architecture” (C) and “Compatibility with Existing Mapping System” (D) with a rating of 5.8. Following were “Multi-Tasking System” (E), “PC-Based System” (F) and “Ease of Installation” (G) with respective rankings of 5.3, 5.3 and 5.2. “Workstation Based System” was rated by the managers as the least important technical feature, with a 4.2 rating on the 1996 survey.


A total of 339 meter reading system projects valued at more than $183 million are listed in the PennWell Research`s “1996 Electric Utility Automated Meter Reading Market Data Report.” A breakdown of planned system projects by total value is illustrated in Figure 4. PennWell Research analysts found that 165 projects comprise $3,359,000 or 2 percent of the total planned system projects. In the 1 million meters and more category, 22 projects, 3 percent of the total, have a value of $147,550,000 or 81 percent of the total value of projects. The next updated series of U.S./Canadian electric utility studies conducted by PennWell Research will be published in mid-1998.

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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com.

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