Smarter data management rewards power and water operations
February 18, 2016
For power and water businesses, information is one of the most valuable assets. But good data you can’t find or use is a wasted opportunity.
Data is most useful when it is integrated and accessible, so that it can help a business make smarter decisions about how to best operate and maintain complex assets for maximum efficiency and return on investment.
Water managers and power generators typically collect large amounts of information to help them make decisions. Organisations are also increasingly using sophisticated monitoring and communications technologies to make assets ‘visible’ around the clock and remotely, to achieve better results with less worker time, effort and travel.
However, these valuable sources of information are usually stored in disparate systems or repositories, including SCADA, telemetry, GIS, document repositories, field notes and CCTV systems. As well, these systems often predate the Internet, and, as a result, may not be easily or securely accessed, and may be confined to office or station networks.
For this asset data to yield insights and optimise operations, the different sources of information need to be unified and displayed in meaningful ways that add value to the basic data.
Managing data to maximise water flow for hydropower generation
Entura worked with its parent company Hydro Tasmania, Australia’s largest water manager and producer of renewable energy, to tackle this data challenge in relation to the canal system that brings water to Tarraleah, a hydropower station in the central highlands of Tasmania.
Managing the flow of water into the canal system is critical for maximising the available water to Tarraleah (and hence its capacity to generate valuable electricity), as well as maintaining the station’s safety and reliability.
As a canal is not a natural waterway, one might assume that keeping it running at the highest possible water level should be easy and predicable. However, the combined effects of uncontrolled inflows, automatic pumps, and unwanted plant growth in the canals make management of water levels in these canals much more complex.
Water levels can rise unexpectedly, spilling valuable water and potentially damaging infrastructure such as roadways or even the canals themselves.
To achieve more efficient and remote management of the water flow into the Tarraleah canal system, Hydro Tasmania aimed to embrace and integrate the latest technology to monitor the live condition of the canals through SCADA, telemetry and manually read data, and make this data more readily available via a single online interface.
The first step towards this goal was understanding the existing limitations of the available information and access to data. GIS provided an excellent overview of the canal system, and was relatively straightforward to use and access via a web browser, but it did not contain any real-time or historical time series information.
The telemetry system contained some information about monitoring sites, but very little about how the data related to other aspects of the system. Also, it could only be accessed from specific computers, and required training and expert knowledge to use. The SCADA system recorded its data to an interface which provided little information about site relativity or purpose, and the interface could only be used within the power station. Some of the more valuable information about the canal system was kept by engineers in isolated document repositories.
These issues acted as barriers to understanding the canal system, hindered the ability to explain it to other people, and made it difficult to find the appropriate data for analysis.
Developing a data solution
To make Tarraleah’s canal information more useful, a data solution had to be interoperable, real-time, secure, synchronised, spatially integrated, contextualised and meaningful, and cost-effective.
|interoperable||To achieve interoperability across multiple devices and operating systems, a web-based platform provided the most suitable and cost-effective solution. A standards-based approach was used in developing the interface, so that the resulting system was able to work seamlessly across devices, with data accessible through a single user interface on laptops, tablets and smart phones.|
|‘Seeing’ the status of infrastructure in real-time called for the data being displayed to be as current as possible, with each point in the chain of data transfer eliminating any unnecessary latency. Performance between the source of the data and the server was streamlined, and latency between the server and the user device was minimised through WebSockets, a new technology using highly efficient two-way binary connections to transfer data with minimal overhead. This allowed an extremely efficient flow of data (less than 500 ms).|
|secure||It was essential that the design did not introduce security risks for the sake of efficiency. To maximise efficiency and minimise security risks, all data was collected from the source and pushed over encrypted links via proxy servers to a cloud server, where it could then be pushed to the waiting client devices. The cloud provider chosen to store the data was considered one of the more secure in Australia, and one of only a few to feature the highest security certifications required by large utilities and mining companies. The software architecture used best-practice methodologies to isolate the data and keep it secure.|
|synchronised||With data stored in a variety of different systems, and ranging from real-time to historical, multiple systems required synchronisation, which was achieved via a configurable ‘data bridge’ solution using plug-in architecture.|
|spatially integrated||The system collated large amounts of spatial information, from maps or GIS or other business systems, into simple reusable formats for display. This required a versatile web-based mapping platform, with the ability to represent the canal, indicate its water level, represent and describe work orders, and link to other internal systems and information to allow easy visualisation of that item of work.|
|contextualised and meaningful (via metadata)||
With thousands of different data sources under management, the system needed to classify data so that users of the system could easily locate data relevant to their requirements. Meta tree structures were used to classify all the data, allowing hierarchical associations. Each data source was tagged with multiple different types of metadata (such as state, scheme, power station, data owner, site type, status), and grouping structures allowed nested grouping of information, such that users could filter information specific to their needs.
The metadata structures could also be used to build dynamic security- sensitive dashboards of data, including any new data added to the system tagged with the appropriate information. This saves the time needed to configure dashboards, and makes sure all relevant data is available to the people that need access to it.
|cost-effective||The system used technology that Entura had already developed to deliver similar projects for other clients, minimising the need to develop new software. The system itself is ‘cloud’-based, allowing the cost of the infrastructure to be shared among a larger group of customers.|
Simplifying access to data is helping Hydro Tasmania maximise the day-to-day operational efficiency of the Tarraleah canals, make better long-term operational decisions, and reap enhanced returns on investment. Employees now have a live view of the canals on iPads or tablets, enabling them to ‘tune’ the canals for maximum efficiency.
Similar solutions to those developed for this project can be used by power and water asset owners and managers to solve a range of data management challenges, including monitoring remote power stations, forecasting floods, and managing irrigation storages.
When we overcome barriers such as restrictive technologies and lack of metadata, we can make the most of our data. Interlinking multiple sources of information and displaying the results meaningfully leads to smarter decision-making and greater insights into how to operate our assets for maximum efficiency and value.