Procurement Lessons from the Asia/Pacific Rim

Procurement Lessons from the Asia/Pacific Rim

By Ivo Hug, Landis & Gyr Utilities Services Inc.

With an estimated 10- to 15-percent growth rate in electrical loads annually, utilities in the Asia-Pacific region are faced with monumental challenges in meeting customer power demands. Such phenomenal growth places considerable pressure on utility engineers and managers in trying to plan, build and maintain their power systems to serve present and future needs. A key factor to success is implementing the automation technology.

At the same time, levels of automation technology in other parts of the world, particularly in North America and Europe, have continued to advance in terms of highly sophisticated application capabilities and integrated solution sets.

However, invisible problems surround Asia-Pacific utilities when they attempt to apply these newer technologies to their younger, fast-growing power generation, transmission and distribution facilities. Often in need of the experienced staff and comparably advanced resources necessary to make the entire system function effectively, many utilities invest in highly advanced applications that cannot be supported by the local infrastructure. This delays the implementation and the cost savings of base automation.

Technological Evolution

First, a brief review of the evolution of advanced automation technologies would be helpful. Utility automation began to see its first advances with data acquisition and control systems. These systems presented a moment-in-time snapshot of the utility`s power system for the operator. The result was a growing need to analyze that data to the utility`s advantage and to optimize the power generation and delivery.

Automatic generation control, or AGC, was one of the first advanced applications utilizing data acquisition and control systems. AGC could match the output of the generators with the power demand by measuring the frequency and adjusting the generator`s output through control signals in a closed-loop manner.

The next level involved “load flow” applications. With the line impedance and reactance known, load flow applications could easily calculate the flow of power through all of the transmission lines. This led to “what if” calculations that could determine the behavior of the power system under certain conditions, without having to experience them in real time. Power network models and mathematical analysis allowed the utility to simulate various contingencies based on the most extreme circumstances. Thus, “security analysis” evolved whereby data was not only collected, but put to more effective use to avoid or prepare for problem situations before they occur.

The next level of technology was “optimal power flow” which offered the capability of controlling both megawatts and voltage to minimize production costs and transmission losses while observing equipment limits and other operational constraints.

System interconnections, growth in the size of power networks and the increase in distances covered by transmission line, began to create problems. The ability to keep the system intact and capable of withstanding a wide variety of disturbances without loss of load or cascading power interruptions became critical. This situation encouraged the development of a new application, “transient stability analysis.” This application determines whether the power system will regain an acceptable state of equilibrium after being subjected to disturbances. It works by simulating the dynamic behavior of a transmission system configuration based on the generation, transmission network topology and the load. At the same time, the application accounts for all power equipment characteristics, ambient temperatures and phase angles between generation and load points. Power applications entered a new era of sophistication.

Other higher-level solutions for utility automation that followed included load forecast, transaction evaluation and scheduling, and hydrothermal generation coordination. With the growing need to automate the utility`s distribution operation, distribution applications were also developed, including distribution network analysis and optimization, work order management and trouble management.

All of these applications should be founded on a reliable network management system platform and supported by a corporate-information technology infrastructure that includes relational databases and information networks.

Walking Before Running

There are several conditions unique to the Asia-Pacific region which present severe challenges for utilities in applying the more advanced utility automation technologies. Extremely remote locations of many Asian power plants and hydroelectric stations, and great distances between where power is generated and where it is needed, present daunting challenges for utilities.

In addition, the state of a region`s telecommunications infrastructure is directly proportional to its ability to support and maintain automation. Essentially, data availability of field-installed RTU`s or intelligent electronic devices are only as reliable as the telecommunications system that supports them.

Second, but equally important, much of the history and experience in working with the new technologies is much less pervasive in Asia than in North America or Europe. The data, as well as the technical and managerial staff to work with the data, are critical to the successful application of advanced automation technologies. Utilities need years of active and historic data along with the experienced engineers to effectively collect, maintain, analyze and use these new capabilities. Otherwise, utilities may never realize an adequate return on investment.

The good news to Asia-Pacific utilities is that other regions of the world have the experience of advanced technologies that can be tapped to their advantage.

Keys to Success

The best advice for utilities in the Asia-Pacific region is to take the process of building an automation system one step at a time, beginning with a solid foundation for future growth. Resist the urge to take a quantum leap into advanced, integrated solutions. Avoid adding capital costs and lengthy, detailed specifications for technologies that cannot be used within a reasonable period of time.

Then, look for ways to accelerate the procurement process by developing a three-way partnership between the automation system supplier, the consultant and the utility. This is particularly true in the Asia-Pacific region. The goal of such an alliance is to shave off much of the delay in what are usually tedious and time-consuming negotiations.

Utility executives can accelerate the procurement cycle for automation system installation and start-up by replacing the specification/proposal process with a “work statement” phase, whereby two suppliers work simultaneously toward a more practical, mini-proposal. The utility benefits from such an approach by experiencing first-hand the suppliers` expertise and problem-solving abilities, without an early commitment to a long-term agreement.

A key to the success of the “work statement” approach is the involvement of the supplier and the utility`s consultant, particularly in the development of the initial requirements. This adds hands-on expertise to the process at the earliest stage, when it is needed the most.

Benefits of Partnership

In an average, medium-sized utility automation system, a typical procurement cycle — including requirements analysis, specification writing, proposal development and evaluation — could be shortened by about one-third. This is significant for utilities looking to accelerate their planning and construction schedules.

This type of arrangement assures that the automation system supplier can propose the best technology solutions to meet the utility`s requirements. The supplier is also assured that the consultant is getting the information that is most useful to solving the utility`s problem.

Another major benefit of a successful work statement and partnership arrangement is that the automation supplier would be instantly up-to-speed in terms of implementing the utility`s system. As a result, the total schedule — from planning and installation through commissioning — would be shortened measurably. The utility also has the advantage of having the supplier`s experience available to help fill those areas of expertise it may be missing on its own staff.

In addition, the utility works directly with the supplier and evaluate its capabilities and service infrastructure, in terms of support services and training, before the installation begins.

Such an approach enables the automation system supplier to recommend a more practical, foundational system that will provide the most appropriate level of automation; one which can grow with the utility`s needs while keeping pace with the region`s ability to provide the necessary support. Higher levels of integrated applications can always be added later, as the utility`s and its customers` needs mature.

Author Bio

Ivo Hug is marketing manager for Landis & Gyr Utilities Services Inc. in San Jose, Calif. He holds a masters of science in electrical engineering from the Swiss Institute of Technology. He has served in various engineering and marketing positions since joining Landis & Gyr in 1978.

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An underground monitoring facility at Tasmania Hydro`s Gordon Power Station.

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