Mapboards Still Add Value to Control Room Operations

Mapboards Still Add Value to Control Room Operations

By Teresa Hansen, Managing Editor

As today`s control systems become more complex, information on system status and performance is becoming critical to efficient operation. Advances in technology, as well as the onset of competition have prompted many utilities to upgrade their control systems in order to eliminate unexpected power outages and ensure high-level customer service. New SCADA/EMS installations are making more and more data available to system operators, often driving a demand for new high-tech mapboard systems. These mapboards can greatly enhance system operation by providing clear system display along with real-time information. State-of-the-art mapboards are playing a vital role in meeting the utility`s goals, as well as the customer`s expectations.

Static vs. Dynamic Mapboards

Until the last few years, most control rooms were equipped with static mapboards. Generally, static mapboards are simply a schematic representation of the control area and provide no actual real-time information. Although many utilities are still using static mapboards, very few new static displays are being installed. In order to enhance capabilities, some static mapboard companies have created alliances with other vendors aimed at incorporating dynamic capabilities into their mapboards.

Dynamic mapboards are dominating the new installation market. These mapboards usually employ large screen projection technology and provide not only a schematic representation, but also incorporate real-time information into the control area display. In addition, dynamic mapboards provide a higher degree of flexibility and allow much more operator interaction. Gene Hosler, Hosler Maps Inc.`s (HMI) president, said that even though control center operators like to be able to pull up details on their computer terminals, they still want an overall view of their distribution system. Mapboards allow operators to see the entire system and monitor a wide range of information.

Stuart Brudner, Barco Visual Systems` sales manager, agrees that an overall system view is necessary. He said dynamic mapboards give the operator an overview of total operation, optimizing system control and improving the timeliness of information, thus aiding in operation decision making. The integration of dynamic mapboards with various distribution automation and SCADA/EMS networks allows alarms, breaker positions and similar information to be displayed on the mapboard, giving all control room operators an overall display of system conditions. Operators can then identify specific areas of interest and call up details about specific equipment or powerlines at their individual workstations. “The amount of graphical information that can be displayed on a mapboard far exceeds the amount of information that can be displayed on a 21-inch computer screen,” Brudner said. “Dynamic mapboards allow operating decisions to be made quicker–sometimes five to six minutes quicker. Not only can the operator see what is happening in a given area, he can also see what might be affected downline.” Being able to visualize what could happen further down the line allows the operator to reroute power and manipulate switches, possibly avoiding additional problems. Brudner said mapboards are becoming a “critical tool” for displaying much of the information that is gathered and processed by utilities` SCADA/EMS networks. In addition, marketing is beginning to play a role in utilities` decisions to install larger, more advanced mapboards, Brudner said. In an effort to gain industrial and commercial business, some utilities have started giving potential customers control center tours. These utilities are using mapboards to impress customers and give them an overview of the utility`s operation capabilities.

Modular Mapboards

Modular mapboards, like their name implies, are comprised of modules that can be removed and updated or replaced as system changes are made. According to Hosler, one major advantage of modular mapboards is that there are no limitations on size, scale, color or level of detail. Modular mapboards can be as simple as a small, one-color mapboard or as elaborate as a utility wishes. HMI recently worked with Bonneville Power Administration, installing a board that is 18 feet high and 155 feet long with a depth of only seven inches. The mapboard depicts various voltage levels and more than 200 high-voltage substations. It includes more than 3,000 light emitting diodes, depicting open and closed breakers and hot line indication. According to Hosler, more and more utilities are selecting a combination of technologies to give them the information they need. The best interface between a utility`s facility and system operators is often an overall display from a well formatted mapboard along with detailed information received from desktop computers or projection monitors, Hosler said.

Large-Screen Projection Mapboards

The primary attraction of projection mapboards is their capability to interface with the control center`s LAN-based computer systems. Brudner pointed out that these mapboards cannot only be integrated into SCADA/EMS networks, but they can also be integrated into AM/FM systems and other utility networks such as those installed to determine manpower allocation and fleet vehicle location. Many users also incorporate video capability, allowing projection of cable news and weather stations, surveillance camera shots and even training films. Flexibility is another major advantage of interfacing the projection mapboards with the existing LAN. When something new is added to the network, the data originating from it can immediately be displayed on the mapboard. Because most projection systems adapt well in X-Windows and Windows NT environments, there is no need to adapt a network specifically dedicated to the display system. This not only saves money, but it also saves time.

Technology Selection

According to Brudner, there are several key issues that should be considered before deciding which large-screen projection technology is best for a control room. These key issues include:

Screen size and placement. Most control rooms were built before much of today`s technology was available, often resulting in limited space for new equipment.

Projector needs. Things such as control room lighting and brightness should be considered to ensure the selected projector will perform in the environment.

Ergonomics. Issues such as character size, color combination, screen lighting, operator position, and console design and layout should all be included in an ergonomic study prior to selecting any equipment.

Ongoing support. The vendor`s availability to answer questions and provide support once the installation is complete is important. Also, the system should be easily expanded and open to other vendor`s systems (i.e. SCADA, DA, AM/FM, etc.).

Audio needs. If the screens will be used to view cable news and weather, training films or something similar, an audio system will be necessary.

Con Ed Utilizes Both LCD and CRT Technology

When selecting a system, it should be noted that large screen projection systems are equipped with either liquid crystal display (LCD) or cathode ray tube (CRT) technology.

At January`s DistribuTECH(TM) Conference, Patricia Robison of Computing Independence and Kevin Alwell of Consolidated Edison (Con Ed) presented a paper, “The Integration and Migration of Technology in Distribution Control Centers.” In their presentation, the authors discussed large-screen projection`s integration into three of Con Ed`s recently upgraded distribution centers–Staten Island, Westchester and Manhattan. Large-screen projection was tested at the Staten Island facility using rear-screen CRT projection technology while LCD-based, large-screen systems were installed in Westchester and Manhattan.

The authors provided brief descriptions of the two systems and cited advantages and disadvantages of the two projection technologies. In addition to the information provided in the table, a few significant findings were reported. The size of the CRT (7 to 9 inches) determines the overall brightness and resolution, with the larger CRTs producing the brighter images. Because each CRT has a limited brightness, the technology has a limit for large screens. Additional limitations of CRT technology including potential CRT burn and high operating costs. In contrast, LCD technology employs an active matrix LCD where every red, green and blue color pixel is controlled by a transistor that is directly linked to the controlling computer terminal`s electronics. Color shift and drift are eliminated as no analog technology is used. A powerful lighting unit shines through the LCD projecting it through high-precision optics onto the projection area, resulting in very good and consistent brightness, sharp images, high contrast and no projection area distortion.

PSO`s Large-Screen Projection System

Public Service Co. of Oklahoma (PSO) is one of many utilities that has successfully incorporated a large-screen projection display system into its operating environment. When PSO updated its Energy Control Center, it included a large-screen display system to allow a better look at its power transmission and distribution system while providing greater accuracy and flexibility. According to PSO, the new mapboard is a great improvement over its old static wallboard system.

The new mapboard system, provided by Barco Visual Systems (formerly Maya Video) is comprised of three 1-by-2 video arrays. Each screen measures 120 inches diagonally. Two UNIX processors control the video system, and for display and control purposes, also intercept data from other X-Windows-based computer systems. Six high-resolution projectors are integrated with the building Ethernet LAN subnet. Connectivity between the video, SCADA and outage analysis systems is provided by routers connecting the subnets.

Although the SCADA system and the outage analysis system are built on different operating platforms, the video system integrates the two on multiple video arrays, enabling system operators to interactively control multiple systems from the video screen with one keyboard and mouse.

When PSO operators face a problem that is typical to most system operators–operation or failure of a distribution feeder breaker at a substation–the SCADA system instantly issues an audible alarm to the dispatcher. The dispatcher can view the alarm list or substation one-line diagram on the video screen or CRT console. If the problem is not resolved within a minute or two, customers tied to that feeder will usually begin calling PSO.

Each call is identified by the outage analysis system, and a fault location is predicted. The calls are geographically displayed as a telephone icon on the screen. If the fault is temporary, the dispatcher can close the breaker via SCADA, possibly fixing the problem before a customer calls. If required, a switchman or trouble crew will be dispatched. The video projection system has greatly improved system operation, allowing PSO to provide a higher level of service to its 473,000 electric customers across the state.

Every supplier of electricity experiences power supply failures at one time or another. These suppliers must correct failures and ensure customer outages are avoided when possible. PSO is just one of many utilities that has discovered that today`s mapboard technology is an important ingredient in meeting its obligations and providing high-level customer service.

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Con Ed`s Staten Island, N.Y., electrical distribution management system`s large-screen displays feature an interactive graphic control system using three 96-inch rear screens. Photo courtesy of Barco Visual Systems.

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This modular installation at Richmond Power & Light, Richmond, Ind., uses 8 inch X 11 inch die-cut, flexible steel modules. Photo courtesy of HMI.

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