Market Data Terminus

Market Data Terminus

Utility Control Systems Head in New Directions

By Bob Smock, PennWell Publishing Co.

Utility SCADA systems are headed for a major change in direction. The market for traditional utility distribution SCADA systems began in the mid-1970s, peaked in the late 1980s and is currently in a decline. Deregulation of electric utilities and the advent of competition should revive demand-but it will be a demand for different kinds of control systems.

PennWell Research data show that since 1970, U.S. electric, water and gas/pipeline utilities installed 1,792 SCADA systems worth a total of $2.06 billion. Figure 1, taken from the installed data base maintained by PennWell Research, shows the trend over the past 30 years. Utilities began installing the control systems in a small way in the 1970s. Electric utilities took a clear lead in the early 1980s with about 60 installations during the five-year period.

The market peaked for SCADA installations starting in the mid-1980s. Electric utilities installed close to 300 systems during that five-year period based on advances in RTU, communications and central processor technology that made distribution system controls cost effective. In the early 1990s, water utilities took the lead with nearly 350 installations over a five-year period.

The market has declined since the early 1990s peak. While the current five-year period is not complete, there has been a definite downturn in the rate of new installations, indicating that the market for traditional distribution control systems is becoming saturated.

Figure 2 shows how the installed systems fall into cost categories. Average cost for a SCADA system is a little more than $1 million but most of the installed systems cost less than that. Almost all the water and gas systems fall under that threshold, with more than half costing less than $250,000. There is a large cluster of electric utility SCADA systems valued at more than $3 million at the high end of the cost chart, illustrating the importance of electric utilities in the SCADA marketplace.

Leading Vendors

Figures 3, 4 and 5 show the leading vendors for water, electric and gas utilities. There are a few vendors that show up on more than one of these charts, but most of the leading vendors are clearly strong in one of the utility areas. Bristol Babcock and Motorola lead in market share in the water market. In the electric market, the leaders are Advanced Control Systems, Landis & Gyr, Ilex, QEI and Harris Controls. In gas, the leaders are Valmet, Bristol Babcock, Teledyne Brown and Fisher Controls. The large “other” categories indicate how diverse the vendor base is for SCADA systems.


Communications methods used in the installed SCADA systems are shown in Figure 6. Radio and leased phone lines dominate, favored by all three types of utilities and especially by the water utilities. Satellite communications are used almost exclusively by long-distance gas pipelines, the only type of utility distribution system large enough to use that method.

Future directions

Distribution SCADA appears to have peaked out in the U.S. market but there are signs of a turnaround in the electric system controls market. Demand for advanced controls system will be driven by the move to deregulate and restructure electric utilities in order to enhance competition.

New electric system structures are beginning to evolve. An example is the development of independent system operators (ISO), organizations formed to operate a high-voltage transmission system owned by several electric utilities. ISOs are forming in California and Texas, and the Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland Interchange, to name a few. ISOs are independent of transmission system owners so that they can support the operation of competitive power pools similar to the system in the United Kingdom. In order to operate transmission systems for economic purposes rather than the system reliability criteria for which they were designed, new control systems will have to be installed.

Another development with control system implications is the rapid increase in wholesale power transactions. Open access is straining utility transmission systems. New transmission lines and new control systems to increase existing line capacity are needed badly. Deregulation at the retail level will also create a demand for new control systems. Some retail firms are looking at the installation of SCADA systems to monitor and control energy usage to take advantage of access to new, low-cost providers. At the distribution level, rapidly advancing control technology could create a large replacement market for existing SCADA systems.

The traditional distribution SCADA market in the United States is on the decline, but new markets for new types of electrical controls promise to be even bigger and better.

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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

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