New SCADA for Power Grid

Moving electric power from the generating plants to individual customers is among operations that remains invisible until something goes wrong, and the power goes off. Maintaining control of the distribution network requires a major control network of its own to monitor consumption, current loading, switching, and problems, right down to individual homes and businesses.


Moving electric power from the generating plants to individual customers is among operations that remains invisible until something goes wrong, and the power goes off. Maintaining control of the distribution network requires a major control network of its own to monitor consumption, current loading, switching, and problems, right down to individual homes and businesses. One provider found it needed a better control platform to ensure trouble-free service throughout its coverage area.

Founded in 1937 by a group of farmers, Dakota Electric Association (DEA) is a member-owned, non-profit electric utility serving parts of Dakota, Goodhue, Scott, and Rice counties, south of Minneapolis, MN. Covering 507 square miles and serving more than 95,000 members, Dakota Electric is the second-largest electric cooperative in Minnesota and growing by 2,200 members each year. To serve the growing population, DEA had to upgrade its obsolete SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) system, which serves as the central monitoring and control platform used by the company to operate its distribution network. As SCADA systems age they can become unreliable, and difficult to interface to the other computer systems in the business, making it hard for the company to integrate business processes and access critical data.

SCADA on a budget

Dakota Electric turned to New Zealand-based Catapult Software, which has been developing SCADA software products and installing SCADA systems for the electricity industry since 1991. The company developed iPower, a product specifically for electric utility SCADA operations based on GE Fanuc's Proficy HMI/SCADA iFix, a robust solution that provides process visualization, data acquisition and supervisory control of operations. Power delivers a modern, sophisticated and “evergreen” SCADA software to electric utilities that includes all the safety, performance, reliability, and management needs to operate an electric network efficiently.

When one of Catapult Software's electric distribution customers asked them to look at available SCADA systems, they found existing offerings fell into two camps: those that were developed specifically for the electric industry and control systems developed for larger factory automation markets. The first seemed expensive, but typically lagged behind current industry standards and trends. The second were sold in high volumes, deliver considerably more sophistication, and are much better priced. Their main shortcoming was a lack of specific functionality required for electric distribution applications.

“iPower was developed to deliver the best of both worlds,” said Tony Haresnape, president of Catapult Software. “We started with a market-leading, sophisticated control system in Proficy HMI/SCADA iFix from GE Fanuc. We added the software services needed to meet the requirements of electric distribution SCADA. The result is a sophisticated [Microsoft] Windows-based SCADA system, affordable and perfect for the needs of rural electric cooperatives.”

“The needs of electric distribution cooperatives were not met by SCADA suppliers,” said Randy Poulson, VP of engineering services for Dakota Electric. “iPower SCADA software offers full-featured, safe, reliable and affordable system for distribution cooperatives of any size.”

Starting at the substation

Each substation has an RTU (remote terminal unit) wired to analog and digital transducers, relaying current measurements back to the iPower SCADA computers in the control room. RTUs are spread across the network and send data back via wireless.

Human operators monitor the state of the network at the iPower workstations by monitoring information from the RTUs. Their analog data includes voltages and currents at key locations and digital data indicates the state of the circuit breakers. The iPower system analyzes the data, sounding alarms and logging events as control parameters specify. Using the system, operators can also perform controls, such as remote opening and closing of circuit breakers.

The system assists with a clear, concise display of information, one picture that provides a power network overview. Operators use this big picture to drill down to individual substations to see detail supported by alarms and event lists. The application handles approximately 20,000 tags and is designed to present critical information in a clear and intuitive way so that operators are not swamped with flashing lights and alarms during a storm that causes outages.

Reporting deliverables

From a reporting perspective, DEA needed two aspects addressed by iPower.

First, after an event, like a storm caused outage, they wanted to review the sequence of events to learn the root cause of the outage and also to understand how the network behaved. iPower adds a detailed events record to Proficy HMI/SCADA iFix to make this possible. The information is time stamped down to 1 ms by the RTUs, plus it gives the company a precise, long term record of what every operator has done.

Second, Dakota Electric needed historical information about how electricity demand has varied over the past day, week and month.

“The software is so easy to install and configure, it is possible for our staff to do much of that work with very minimal training,” says Len Jewell, technical systems manager for Dakota Electric. “With iPower, the days of having someone else build your new SCADA system at the factory and you attending never-ending factory testing and training sessions are over.”

Brian Kinstad, SCADA engineer for DEA observes, “SCADA systems don't need to be complicated and difficult. It doesn't have to be hard to share information between SCADA and office systems. You can find a lot of good features in an affordable SCADA system, and the people putting it together can have fun doing it.”

For customers, implementation of iPower for iFix delivers more reliable service and fewer outages; when there is an outage, it is shorter. From an internal business perspective, Dakota Electric has more ability to integrate SCADA data with other business data, to find and make efficiency gains, and tune business processes. With good history and detailed reports, network efficiencies improve, lowering costs for members.

Author Information

Marcel Van Helten is infrastructure industry marketing manager for GE Fanuc. Reach him at .

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