In recent years, the increased diversification of power generation has raised the complexity involved with its management and analysis. For example, the U.S. branch of a large-scale electrical utility company built a national control center in Portland, where it helps customers realize the risks associated with natural gas and the benefits of having sustainable power. Opened in 2001, the control center manages more than 3500 MW of wind power in 20 states and is tasked with coming up with strategies of adding 1000 MW renewable energy every year.The control center has a layout similar to NASA’s mission control room, with system analysis overlooking the performance parameters of wind turbines across the country. In addition, experts also monitor the weather conditions, shutting down specific turbines in case harsh weather hits.
One of the keys to the control center’s effective operation is an HMI/SCADA software that displays, control, manages, and analyzes information collected from multiple installations. Functioning as the nerve center for the multitude of wind farms throughout the country, the HMI/SCADA suite allows operators to easily supervise plants’ behavior and carry out adjustments in power factor, voltage, and reactive power in case the need arises.
Each turbine is fitted with a control box that contains a PLC, power converter, and control boards. The PLC transmits the data collected to a remote-control system through an Ethernet-based LAN. The primary communication protocol in use is OPC as it allows interoperability while having maximum, real-time exchange rate. Once all the data has been routed to the control center, it is taken over by the HMI/SCADA software. The software then displays, manages, and analyzes the data, functioning in conjunction with human interference.
The control center also has the capacity of providing management services to any owner of a wind energy facility, maintaining 2,479 wind turbines, each with 300–350 I/O data points, handled by over 20 servers. The initial investment was high, but once the system had been thoroughly tested, and a template had been developed for its expansion, the operational and economic efficiency soared.
Because of the HMI/SCADA software suite, all of these areas of wind energy are able to be monitored and maintained right from the control center. And HMIs’ involvement in other energy resources may only increase as new ways of incorporating technology into these growing renewable energy industries develop.
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