Operating a Successful SCADA System for Utilities

By February 6, 2020 Blog, SCADA
SCADA system

Utilities, even when they are private, are designed for the public. The public relies on utilities for electricity, for water, for communications—in short, for everything that we use as a society. That’s a lot of pressure. Utilities have to be on the ball, every day, every hour, and every minute, or else the public suffers…and so does their reputation.

But the present isn’t the only concern of a utility. You also have to look at the future. We’re going to be using more electricity from different sources. We’re going to have to monitor water use more closely. And we’re going to communicate more regularly.

Not only that but as grids get smarter and systems become more interconnected, the wave of data and the need for real-time decision-making will increase. You’ll have to do more with more specific data more effectively. So how do you manage the present and prepare for the future? One way is to invest in a comprehensive SCADA system for utilities.

A Supervising Control and Data Acquisition system helps you keep an eye on your operation, troubleshoot immediately, handle data, and make faster decisions. It’s an effective way to keep things running today and prepare for tomorrow’s complexity.

A SCADA system helps you maintain public trust while making you more efficient, reputable, and profitable.

The Basics of a SCADA System

As its full name implies, there are two main components of a SCADA system for utilities: 

  1. Control 
  2. Data acquisition

It all starts with the data.

When you develop a SCADA system, you will first have to understand everything that needs to be monitored. This includes all of the electrical and mechanical components, environmental factors (like heat), communication tools, and even whether the door to the remote substation is opened or not.

Data Collection and Monitoring

How do you monitor everything? With Remote Telemetry Units (RTUs). RTUs are analog or discrete sensors that are set up to monitor “events.” These events can be just about anything, from a surge in a distant part of a system to the temperature rising too high or a battery running weak on power.

There are multiple interconnected events throughout your entire system. So the RTUs are constantly monitoring, and sending information to the second part of the SCADA system, the master station.

Master Station Control

A master station is the central command center, taking the information and acting upon it. So let’s say that one part of your system is experiencing a usage surge that could impact other areas. The RTU sends that information. The master then sends requests to other RTUs to obtain information and get a clearer picture.

The master can then take direct action, like lowering power in one area to dedicate to another. It could shut down one section to maintain balance. It might alert you through a text or email. Depending on the situation, it could also alert first responders. 

This all happens immediately, in real-time.

The benefits of this are clear: you have the ability to keep eyes and ears on your entire system, and can act immediately. This information will transform your utility and keep you strong through changing times.

The Benefits of a Successful SCADA System for Utilities 

What does all this information and action mean for you? It will help you in many areas.

Reliability

This is the most obvious one. If you understand what’s going on in your system at all times and can act immediately when there’s a problem, you’re ahead of the game. You won’t have to wait until there’s a disaster in your system to repair it. 

Not only that but instant, automatic fixes result in less downtime and greater reliability. 

Heightened Efficiency

There’s nothing worse than not catching a problem before it’s too late, but there’s a pretty close second—sending your people to a remote station when they don’t need to go.

Wasted windshield time is expensive and weighs heavy on your resources. That’s inefficient. 

But knowing what’s happening in your system means being able to prioritize your work, focusing on what matters most. 

Better Conformity and Interoperability

The smart grid means more connections. We’re entering an era of integration. 

This is true for:

  • Electrical utilities that have to keep up to speed with steep industry regulations for uptime
  • Telcos who must consider 5G roads, smart cities, and intense demand for digital transformation
  • Water utilities for breaking down barriers between different reclamation boards

This is why it’s vital to establish conformity and interoperability in your systems. While SCADA doesn’t, in and of itself, do this, it monitors the communication connectors ensuring sound telecom infrastructure.

Systems will need to communicate across protocols, and the translation devices must always be functioning. If there’s no conformity, there’s no interoperability. And that leads to general breakdowns.

Better Decision Making

Big data isn’t coming. Big data is here. It’s going to be intensified by greater interconnectivity, as your system will be obtaining data from other systems. The truth is, no human can handle the flood of data pouring in continually. But the right system can. 

Setting up a SCADA system means that all the data that comes to you is organized and prioritized, leaving you to view the most important parts.

When there’s something that requires a decision, you have easy access to the data you need, and will not get distracted by what you don’t. That results in better decisions. 

Happier Customers

Utility customers aren’t interested in your decision-making. Customers likely aren’t attuned to your challenges. They just want the lights on, their phones working, and their water running….understandably so. When this doesn’t happen, customers get upset.

You can be the utility with the most uptime. You can be the one that delivers on your promise. With better information, better decisions, and faster time to act, you will gain customer trust and boost your reputation.

Be More Profitable

There are many factors to being profitable, and SCADA is just one of them. But it does help you to:

  • Be more efficient
  • Ensure you aren’t wasting money and valuable windshield time
  • Make repairs before they turn into expensive disasters
  • Keep your customers happy with more reliable service
  • Avoid steep fees, fines, and lawsuits
  • Ensures your stakeholders are pleased with your utility

The right SCADA system isn’t cheap. But it’s vital. It stops you from losing money and transforms your business model. That’s why most utilities find it a crucial part of their operation. 

The Right SCADA System Moves You Into the Future

SCADA is all about giving you information concerning the present. But what it really does is give you a glimpse of the future. Temperatures spiking? Use that to understand what’s about to go wrong and prevent it. Investing in the right SCADA system for utilities is crucial for preparing for what comes next. 

What’s coming next is more data, greater interoperability, and more usage. That’s why you want to partner with the right SCADA provider. What does this mean?:  

  • An experienced team who knows your utility and understands your needs
  • A partner who can help you plan and design your system
  • Engineers who can create a custom solution that meets your requirements and fits in your budget
  • A partner who provides comprehensive training
  • A provider with excellent customer service to make sure you’re maximizing uptime
  • A true partner who will be there for the long-haul

There are a lot of companies who are here today and gone tomorrow. That doesn’t work! You need a partner who can help you scale and grow. You need someone who has the tools and knowledge to perform vital repairs. And, you need someone who can integrate tomorrow’s technology into your system.

What do you need from your SCADA partner? An experienced team that will help usher you into a successful future.

DPS Telecom has the experience and expertise to help companies operate a successful SCADA system and monitor what matters most—including their costs. Our technicians can work with you to install RTUs with easy-to-use interfaces for more automatic responses. Reach out and get a quote today!

Image courtesy Unsplash, Robert Thiemann

Andrew Erickson

Andrew Erickson

Andrew Erickson has been building remote monitoring systems for his clients since 2006, both in the United States and internationally. He has been a featured speaker at a variety of national telco, utility, radio, and rail conferences.

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