Electric, water and gas utilities all depend on SCADA, but what is it really? Officially it stands for Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition. Most often when we think of electric, water and gas, we think of the metering, billing and revenue collection side of the business.
But metering only tells a small part of the story. Rather, let’s focus on something that complements metering—SCADA.
Users often have two different perspectives when thinking of SCADA:
- It’s a local concept where a device is intelligently monitoring and controlling a particular field asset, or
- It’s the data retrieved from the field that goes to a centralized location at the Utility for operators to monitor. This system is also termed SCADA.
It’s not always clear
It’s understandable why the topic of SCADA is a bit muddy. And, when you overlay the term across industries it becomes even larger. So, where does SCADA fit in the big picture? To better understand, consider how electricity, water or gas gets to the end-user. We often take this question for granted. Almost, as if it’s just magically routed to the right location.
Utilities are constantly seeking the most efficient way to distribute power, water and gas while also minimizing waste. This is where distribution comes into play and is what makes SCADA special. Within the utility, there is an orchestration of power, water and gas loads that are all being reliably routed, monitored and controlled to deliver these resources. This is the center of the critical infrastructure for every utility. Yes, Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) is crucial for billing, but distribution/SCADA is the unspoken hero. Without it, there is no power, water, or gas to be read at the meter.
There is a bigger network behind the scenes responsible for critical infrastructure that requires a lot of data in order for a utility to run efficiently. Where does this data go? More often than not, it goes to the SCADA system. It’s the brains of the entire operation and is the key piece of distributing these valuable resources.
Here’s a quick look at how SCADA integrates into electric, water and gas utilities.
For electric utilities, there are many scenarios for SCADA automation. For instance, by monitoring and controlling reclosers, the utility can isolate, and reroute power during outages. Or, voltage regulators can provide valuable control into feeder loads. With distribution automation, substations can step up or down the voltage to redirect and transfer power to the places it needs to go. SCADA may redirect power, restore power, and monitor voltages and currents. Often it is sophisticated enough to detect and correct problems with little to no human intervention.
Utilities can make use of a host of SCADA assets including reclosers, capacitor controls, voltage regulators, network protectors, switches, faulted circuit indicators and more. As utilities leverage SCADA’s power for their distribution network, the more visibility (and ultimately reliability and control) they have. SCADA is often responsible for the distribution line voltage levels 69kV and below. It provides engineers with one-line diagrams to see the state of the system in its entirety giving them the power and the insight to make decisions based on real-time data.
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In the water sector, there may be overhead storage tanks supplying a nearby subdivision. This system might include pressure sensors, level sensors, and a need to pump water in numerous directions at various rates to distribute water to all of the residents.
Much like electric utilities, water engineers and operators can manage, monitor and control assets in their system. For example, SCADA can monitor water levels, control waste water and clean water treatment plants, and operate pumps, generators and more. As engineers, when we have more visibility into the network, we can eliminate waste and ultimately ensure we are conserving these precious resources.
There are often large underground pipelines distributing natural gas across a service territory. From a safety standpoint, this entails regulating pressure, operating valves, and monitoring critical sensors. Gas SCADA operators can set up logic to proactively act during critical alarm situations—automating the response. For example, when high levels of methane or pressure are detected, the system can automatically operate a valve to safely redistribute the pressure.
In a gas SCADA system, engineers are monitoring and controlling various levels of gas. A valve may need to be operated when pressure reaches a certain state. SCADA may also need to operate generators if a loss of AC power is detected. It can either operate this manually, or intelligent Smart Grid solutions can do this automatically.
In summary, SCADA is the unspoken hero in providing our customers reliable infrastructure. Our customers depend on us, and we owe it to them to be more intelligent and use data to have a more efficient and smarter grid network. It behooves us to add all of our distribution equipment onto SCADA so that we can transparently eliminate waste and ultimately provide a higher quality of living.
So, cheers to the SCADA side of the house for making all of our lives safer, cleaner, and more comfortable.