Using Real-Time Operational Intelligence and Control to Improve Performance

By Susan Ryba

This article appears in the September-October 2014 issue of Public Power magazine.

It was time to give up on the old equipment. Hampered by a supervisory control and data acquisition system dating back to 1972, the staff could no longer find spare parts, even on eBay. So, in the fall of 2013, the Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District commissioned a SCADA system from Survalent Technology. Central is monitoring conditions at its hydro generating plants and irrigation facilities, using data produced by Survalent applications to control water flow and schedule generation.

Affiliated with Hometown Connections, Survalent Technology is the oldest and most experienced independent supplier of advanced distribution management systems for electric, transit, renewable and water/waste water utilities in North America. For over 50 years, Survalent has helped more than 500 utilities use operational data to improve reliability, efficiency and customer service.

“Switching from our old SCADA system to the new was like switching from a Schwinn bicycle to a Mercedes Benz,” said Devin Brundage, Central’s Electric Engineer & Superintendent. “After a thorough evaluation of bids and companies, we selected Survalent for their combination of price, advanced technology and flexibility. For example, we maintain about 65 vintage remote terminal units throughout the canal system and did not want to change out these RTUs all at once. Survalent devised a way for converting the protocols for these units, so we can replace them over time. Along with the excellent support of the Survalent staff, we value the 24/7 monitoring of our systems, with texts and emails sent automatically to key personnel when alarms go off.” 

Bryan Municipal Utilities in Ohio provides water, electric, and communications services. Power Production Superintendent Matt Killion joined the staff in 2008 and found in place an old SCADA system that was so unreliable and alarmed so many things that it was ignored. BMU had recently purchased a new SCADA system from Survalent and assigned Killion to take charge of the installation.

“Today, we are using Survalent’s very robust system to monitor and control the equipment for our electric and water services,” Killion said. “We determine the various alarm levels, indicating which conditions merit immediate dispatch and which can wait for crews to check the next day. For example, we address tripped circuits immediately but use such indicators as wear on breaker contacts and incorrect gas levels to perform routine maintenance on other parts of the system. By combining the monitoring functions from Survalent with after-hours dispatch and outage call management services provided by another firm on an outsource basis, we have improved greatly our staff efficiency and customer response capabilities.”

The Utilities Department in Dothan, Alabama, provides electric, water and wastewater services to about 30,000 customers. “Along with enabling us to adjust the loads on our circuits and avoid failures that upset our customers, Survalent’s system offers superior historical data and event archiving for effective diagnosis and planning,” said Christopher J. Squire, Utilities Engineer. “Plus, the staff at Survalent is always available to me and very helpful.”

For the Utility Services department of the City of Ocala, Florida, the previous SCADA system required the support of multiple third-party programs and lacked a modern look, feel and functionality. In early 2014, Utility Services purchased the Survalent system for its switching and tagging functionality, as well as the simulator for training operators in previous real-world disasters and potential catastrophes. “The graphical user interface is easy on the eyes and brain and the editing is quick and simple,” said Chad Lynch, Information Systems Analyst. “One of the biggest reasons we chose Survalent, however, was they were the only vendor who submitted a proposal that supported virtualizing the servers.” Virtualization allows the utility to run multiple systems (SCADA, AMI, billing, etc.) on the same server, rather than each application requiring its own dedicated server—thereby reducing IT resources.

At the time of this writing in July 2014, Ocala Utility Services was in the final commissioning phase. “We’re already seeing huge advantages in the reporting tools alone,” Lynch said. “We’ve also decided to push more information from our substations to the SCADA system because points can be so easily added and modified.”

Lynch noted, “The Survalent team has been great! Everyone we have spoken to on the phone or reached by email has been quick to respond and ensure our problems are addressed. Survalent personnel who traveled to Ocala were very knowledgeable and in fact taught us a few things about RTU’s that we didn’t know. It’s comforting that the people supporting us not only have an in-depth knowledge of their own system, but of other systems and devices that communicate with theirs.”

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