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Efficient Substation SCADA Design for Preventing Downtime in Utilities

substation scada

In 1880, the town of Wabash, Indiana, became the first city to have electric lights. In 1882, the first central power station opened in Godalming, England. Later that year, Thomas Edison built the first electric station - Pearl Street Station - in New York. This all seems like a long time ago, but in the scope of human history, it wasn't.

In a short time, though, our lives have become completely intertwined with electricity. It's to the point that - if power goes out for a few minutes - people talk about it the next day at work as if we plunged back into the Dark Ages. That's why electrical utilities have to work around the clock to prevent all downtime, and certainly avoid lengthy periods of downtime.

That's where SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems come in. These systems allow for automation and monitoring, helping electric utilities:

  • Avoid downtime
  • Monitor substations
  • Continually bring in revenue
  • Make better decisions
  • Support all aspects of their business

If you are in charge of running or monitoring the vast expanse of electrical systems, you know the pressures and stresses of the job. You know how much people are relying on you. An efficient substation SCADA design can prevent downtime by giving you all the information you need.

Electricity is a phenomenon that has not always been in existence, but the need to act on the right data is eternal.

Understanding the Four Fundamentals of SCADA

Before we dive into all the benefits of SCADA, let's first understand what makes for an efficient SCADA design.

A SCADA system is a network of smart devices that interface with your substation. They are comprised of two main parts:

  • Sensors and information gatherers
  • Control outputs

The sensors are monitored by Remote Telemetry Units (RTUs). These RTUs gather your substation information and relay it to master units. This is the human interface. It regulates the messages based on parameters you've set.

At the end of the day, there are four fundamentals to an efficient substation SCADA design.

1. Data acquisition

  • What do you need to monitor in your substation? Essentially everything. You'll be able to target hundreds of key factors, from environmental to security concerns, and have them completely and continuously monitored.

2. Data collection

  • Sensors are busy. There is data coming through them at all times. This has to be collected by your RTUs, which handle the information from multiple sensors. This is especially true if you want to trend data over time. It's not enough to log unusual events - you need to log readings at least every few minutes.

3. Data communications

  • At this point, data has to go somewhere. Most SCADA data these days is put on Ethernet and IP over SONET. For security reasons, this should be on LAN/WANs. This is how data moves from the RTUs to the master and how RTUs receive commands.

4. Data control

  • What does this data do? It's up to you. Some alarms will have an automated response. Some will alert a person; others will alert emergency services. You have control over how your data is received and delivered.

Of course, this can get unwieldy if not set up right. So if you want to implement SCADA best practices, there are a few steps to take.

  • Determine your needed inputs
  • Understand what is an important alert and what can be dealt with later
  • Set up protocols for a proper response, whether that is a message relayed through email, a text, or anything else
  • Partner with a SCADA system expert who understands electrical utilities

This is how we create efficient SCADA substations. But what are the benefits?

The Benefits of Proper Substation SCADA Design

The benefits of a proper substation SCADA design are both immediate and have a lot of downstream value. Here's how they help you:

Monitor Across Your Network

Even "small" utilities cover vast areas with dozens or hundreds of substations. These are spread across distant fields or are deep in the mountains. They could be hundreds of miles away. It's impractical and cost-prohibitive to have them always monitored. But obviously, they have to be continually monitored.

Your SCADA system can be your "eyes and ears" across this vast system.

You don't need to have people to check if things are happening; a status of occurrences are sent right to your people, at a centralized location.

Make Better Decisions With Better Data

Two main things that keep a substation supervisor up at night:

  1. Not responding to emergencies
  2. Responding to non-emergencies

Obviously the former is far more damaging than the latter. But responding to every slight problem means hundreds of hours of windshield time, of having your highly-paid engineers drive many miles, across fields, and over mountains, only to take care of something that wasn't urgent.

Having an efficient SCADA system lets you prioritize alerts and only respond to what matters now.

It lets you automate some responses to save all human energy and expenses. It lets you use your people in the best way possible.

Of course, this good data also helps you make sure that when there is real trouble approaching, you will meet it with the applicable data. You know just how much power is surging, and exactly where. You don't have to make the kind of indiscriminate decisions that can bring a system down.

Keep Secondary Revenue Streams Alive

An effective SCADA monitoring system helps keep the high voltage SCADA system up and running, which means your stations have electricity pumping through them at all times. This is great because most utilities can and do lease space on their towers to other companies and utilities, in particular to cell phone companies. This helps keep utilities fiscally afloat regardless of prevailing economic or political storms.

But that means they need to be reliable. By preventing disaster, SCADA systems help ensure reliability throughout your system. This keeps important sources of revenue alive.

Keep the Lights On

Recently, do you recall when New York had a major blackout caused by a power outage in Midtown Manhattan? Of course, you do; for people in your position, that's the scary bedtime story. But everyone else probably remembers it as well. It was so different than what we thought was possible in this day and age, that it turned out to be one of the most incredibly noteworthy and tumultuous blackouts. It even blacked out the billboards at Time Square and disabled subway lines.

We rely on electricity. We rely on it to live and work and to keep us healthy and safe.

That means people rely on you, and need to know that you will monitor the vastness of your operation, keeping it free of accidental and intentional harm.

You can't have someone at every substation at all times. But with an effective substation SCADA design, you will have something even better: a whole network of devices talking to each other, relaying data, and giving it to you in manageable, actionable chunks.

That means you can live up to your commitments. It means electricity, which we rely on like oxygen, will continue to light our way.

DPS Telecom has the experience and expertise to help companies monitor what matters most. Our technicians can work with you to ensure an efficient substation SCADA design with more automatic responses to prevent downtime. Reach out and get a quote today!

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