Rolling blackouts tend to get people’s attention and spur the call for investigation and innovation.
A couple of weeks ago the state of Texas grappled with electricity shortages during a severe cold snap and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) implemented rolling blackouts across the state, and even swallowed some Texas pride to ask Mexican generators for the purchase of power (which was eventually rebuffed). In the aftermath, the former mayor of Houston, the 4th largest city in the United States, called on the state legislature to reinstate the reserve requirements that were eliminated when Texas adopted a deregulated energy market 10 years ago. It may be that big changes are on the way.
Regardless of where all that winds up, the episode demonstrates yet once again that grid and generation management must continually improve in order to match demand and supply. Texas is one of the fastest growing states in the U.S. and yet has not built a power plant in a decade. An effort in 2006-2007 by the former TXU to add 11 new coal plants in Texas was rolled back due to environmental concerns stoked by the natural gas lobby. Clearly adding generation anywhere faces uphill battles.
As a fallback to adding generation, utilities will look to the innovation and improvements that come with better information technology systems. It may be worthwhile for our friends in Texas to look at what our partner Invensys is doing for Elsam A/S, Denmark’s largest provider of electricity and heat. Elsam deployed OSVALD, based on Wonderware’s IndustrialSQL Server and built on Microsoft .NET platform, to sit in the central load-sharing control room, collect current data from Elsam’s eight power plants, the transmission system operator, and other local power units. As their case study says:
Wonderware's industry-leading IndustrialSQL Server realtime plant historian is based on Microsoft's SQL Server technology. It collects and stores data from thousands of I/O points in each of the power plants in one central database, providing a single point of access to all vital information needed to drive daily decision-making. By using the statistical information gathered over time, together with current production information analyzed in ActiveFactory trending and analysis software, Elsam can instruct certain plants to raise production or lower production as required to meet fluctuating customer demand. InTouch HMI software provides the machine visualization and control for plant operations.
In these days of constricted supply in the United States, the case study is worth a read, but you can also see the Invensys video here. – Jon C. Arnold