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Why energy control room operators should travel back in time: Substation control with the energy time machine

For over a century, Britain’s energy grid has remained largely unchanged — a labyrinth of electricity lines connecting over 400,000 substations across the country. Its infrastructure has withstood industrialisation and a rapid increase in demand for power. However, distributors often struggle to execute fault analysis at these substations, due to the complex and abstract data generated at these sites.

Here, Jürgen Resch, industry manager for energy at COPA-DATA, explains how process recording software can alleviate problems when managing maintenance in substations.  

When Britain’s energy infrastructure was first established, no one could have anticipated the increased demand for power that the future would bring. To measure the performance of today’s energy supply, power distributors largely rely on supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) software to gather insights from each substation.

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Substations generate a plethora of data, from information on energy effectiveness to the lifespan and performance of machinery inside the facility. However, the majority are unmanned. Therefore, when power supply companies identify an anomaly in data, they will send a maintenance engineer to export and analyse the information manually.

However, without witnessing an error occurring in real-time, pinpointing the cause of a problem in a substation can be tedious and time-consuming.

Travelling back in time
Hiring an engineer to supervise the substation full-time is not a feasible option. As an alternative, energy distributors should invest in substation automation software with process recording capabilities.

Process recording can serve as a time machine for maintenance engineers, allowing the software to automatically record every process that occurs in the substation. Maintenance engineers can then replay the processes at a future date.

COPA-DATA’s industrial automation software, zenon, includes a Process Recorder module designed for this purpose. The module can help engineers identify errors in data and provide diagnostics.

As standard, the module continuously records all processes and saves the recordings automatically. The recorded data can then be played back in detail in zenon’s simulation mode — in a similar format to a standard media player.

In an ideal environment, process recording would be provided as standard with any SCADA or automation software used in substations. Using process recording, maintenance engineers can review every single process in the substation. Therefore, when attempting to identify an anomaly in data, engineers can use the recordings to isolate the exact moment the problem occurred.

Consider this: an energy supplier has spotted an irregularity in the data from one of its substations. Using zenon’s Process Recorder, an engineer can replay the process in which the irregularity occurred. Let’s say that the process recording software determined that the change in data coincided with a power surge in the substation. With this knowledge, the engineer can investigate the problem with a more informed approach.

In this instance, the engineer can find the cause of the power surge. For example, a piece of operational machinery overheating would cause the cooling fan to kick in unexpectedly, creating a spike in power. Considering the ageing equipment in some substations, this wouldn’t be an unlikely occurrence.

With this insight, the engineer can provide necessary maintenance to the equipment before the problem escalates, potentially preventing the machinery from failing completely in the future.

Since it was first established in the late 1800s, Britain’s energy network has endured rapid industrialisation and a colossal rise in the nation’s demands for power. The infrastructure may be ageing, but new technologies are available to ensure that the existing network can cope with new challenges.

Energy distributors have already invested in SCADA software to better manage the data generated at remote substations. Process recording is the next logical advancement, ensuring that maintenance engineers make the most of all the data collected on site to identify errors in the past and avoid problems in the future.

On COPA-DATA
COPA-DATA is the technological leader for ergonomic and highly dynamic process solutions. The company, founded in 1987, develops the software zenon for HMI/SCADA, Dynamic Production Reporting and integrated PLC systems at its headquarters in Austria. zenon is sold through its own offices in Europe, North America and Asia, as well as partners and distributors throughout the world. Customers benefit from local contact persons and local support thanks to a decentralised corporate structure. As an independent company, COPA-DATA can act quickly and flexibly, continues to set new standards in functionality and ease of use and leads the market trends. Over 100,000 installed systems in more than 90 countries provide companies in the Food & Beverage, Energy & Infrastructure, Automotive and Pharmaceutical sectors with new scope for efficient automation.

On zenon
zenon is a software system from COPA-DATA for industrial automation and the energy industry. Machines and equipment are controlled, monitored and optimized. zenon’s particular strength is open and reliable communication in heterogeneous production facilities. Open interfaces and over 300 native drivers and communication protocols support the horizontal and vertical integration. This allows for continuous implementation of the Industrial IoT and the Smart Factory. Projects with zenon are highly scalable.

zenon is ergonomic, both for the engineer and for the end user. The engineering environment is flexible and can be used for a wide range of applications. The principle of “setting parameters instead of programming” helps engineers to configure projects quickly and without errors. Complex functions for comprehensive projects are supplied out-of-the-box to create intuitive and robust applications. Users can thereby contribute to increased flexibility and efficiency with zenon.