Recycling EMS

Recycling EMS

By Michael A. Marullo, cfar International Ltd.

We`ve finally done it! We have made such wide use of acronyms that now we are recycling the old ones. EMS was already a confusing one because “energy management system” means something very different to a power engineer than it does to a building engineer, suggesting to the former a set of network security functions and to the latter, a load-shedding algorithm.

There are other acronyms that also fall into this duplicity such as ATM (automated teller machine or asynchronous transfer mode?), PLC (power line carrier or programmable logic controller?), ISO (International Standards Organization or Independent System Operator?) and others. This already confusing situation is made even worse by the fact that ATMs use ATM, PLCs use PLC and ISOs will probably have to adhere to ISO standards in the future–as will ATMs and PLCs, I suppose.

But the real confusion comes in when people start using contextually sensitive acronyms in a way that confuses or outright contradicts its meaning in its native context. Indeed, the utility definition of EMS is a good example of what I`m talking about. Let me explain.

Many years ago when I first started following the EMS business, it didn`t mean a whole lot more than AGC (automation generation control). Later, it came to include what we now commonly refer to as advanced applications. At the time, this meant Economic Dispatch, Interchange Scheduling and Interchange Transaction Evaluation. Then, as time went on, more advanced functions were added and new “network security” programs such as Network Topology and State Estimation were created to deal with the more complex demands of an increasingly sophisticated EMS environment. These, in turn, led to even more advanced capabilities such as Contingency Analysis, Operator Load Flow and Optimal Power Flow, all of which required ever faster, more capable–and more expensive–computing platforms.

In the early 1990s, a radical change took place. The introduction of high performance workstations and vastly improved software techniques–both at the operating system level and at the application level–turned the EMS business upside down. Average selling prices for typical EMS procurements dropped by 50 percent or more and conventional EMS software became the original poster child for the term “stranded investment.”

What happened in the aftermath was a little strange but understandable, I suppose. Suddenly, being an EMS supplier–once an elite club of industry heavyweights–was NOT something to be flaunted. As a result, most of the traditional suppliers either consciously (or subconsciously) went out shopping for a new claim to fame. Well, they must have all shopped at the same mall because most, if not all, came out wearing the same dress: DMS.

Distribution Management Systems is about as opposite from EMS as you can get. Indeed, the lowly distribution part of the network once scoffed at by the EMS community as being unworthy of automation was almost instantaneously transformed into the new domain for EMS suppliers.

Literally within months, EMS suppliers became EMS/DMS suppliers. They even started adding SCADA back into their repertoire. (This is quite ironic given that most EMS suppliers didn`t even like admitting that they interfaced with SCADA just a few years earlier!)

Although this transformation speaks well for the survival instincts of traditional EMS suppliers, it seems that some of the DMS suppliers have taken the position that turnabout is fair play. Some of the stuff I`ve seen in print lately–both in the trades and company sales literature–would have you believe that EMS can be provided by almost any vendor capable of changing a “D” to an “E” in the acronym. Selecting a qualified EMS supplier is made to sound as simple as selecting a vendor for your next PC!

Sorry folks, but I don`t buy it. When all is said and done, there is still a lot of difference between EMS and DMS, and although I allow that there are companies that do both things well, you might want to take an extra careful look before you commit your EMS budget to the wrong acronym.

Sure, there are a lot of similarities when it comes to utility automation hardware and software platforms. And, while there is certainly a case to be made here for “the more things change, the more things remain the same,” there is still a lot more to the difference between EMS and DMS than one letter in the acronym. Recycled acronyms are something that I suppose we`ll just have to get used to; recycled suppliers are another story altogether.

Author Bio

Michael A. Marullo is managing director and CEO of cfar international, a global automation marketing and technology consulting firm. Questions or comments may be directed to P.O. Box 641177, Kenner, LA 70064-1177; phone: (504) 733-5504; fax: (504) 733-0754 or (e-mail).

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