A new computerized monitoring and control system is taking all of the guesswork out of managing Heartland’s electric system.
Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition, better known as SCADA, places all of the equipment at substations throughout the cooperative’s service area on a secure, private network. That network provides Heartland staff with a constant stream of real-time data and allows for remote management at the click of a mouse.
Heartland recently hit a milestone: 9 of the cooperative’s 18 distribution points—the places at which Heartland receives power from its supplier and converts it to a voltage that can be distributed to homes, farms, and businesses—have been fully outfitted with SCADA technology. The remainder will be finished in 2022.
Tony Washington, electric system manager for Heartland, said the SCADA system brings improvements in three key areas: engineering, outage restoration, and safety.
Washington says the real-time data provided by the SCADA system is helping the cooperative make smarter decisions.
“It provides engineering data such as loads on substations and loads on feeders, so we know when they start reaching a level that something needs to be upgraded or changed before they fail and cause outages,” Washington said.
As a real-life example, the Devon substation recently needed to be shut down in order to repair faulty equipment. The operations team initially thought the repairs would require powering down all of the consumer-members typically served by the substation; however, after analyzing data from the SCADA system, they found that those consumer-members could be safely “backfed,” or temporarily powered by other substations.
“Thanks to SCADA, we had a lot better picture of what was going to happen after we transferred the load to the different substations,” Washington said. “I could see the data by the feeder and by phase. That’s the kind of data you need to make those decisions.”
One of the most time-consuming parts of responding to an outage is “riding out the line”—physically traveling along a power line and looking for the source of a problem. Washington says the SCADA system will give dispatchers helpful clues as to the probable location of a fault.
“Once this is set up, it will provide us with a fault current that we can use to look at a map and determine almost exactly where the fault has occurred,” Washington said. “As long as you have the right data in your GIS (Geographic Information System) model, it will get you really close to the location.”
Additionally, the SCADA system will instantly alert Heartland staff members if, for example, a feeder or an entire substation loses power.
When a fault occurs on a power line, a device called a recloser will cut off power momentarily—typically long enough for a branch or a bird to fall away from a line—and then attempt to reconnect power. They will typically do this four times.
If a lineman is working on that line, that means they could be exposed to a dangerous arc up to four times. SCADA changes that.
“Through supervisory control, we can remotely change the setting on that recloser,” Washington said. “We will basically flip it into a different mode that prevents it from reclosing and reduces their exposure from four potential arcs to one.”
Washington said Heartland's rollout of SCADA has been a team effort. In particular, journeyman lineman Cody Conwell and technology and integration manager Louie Weimer have played integral roles throughout the installation and testing process.