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IT powers high-voltage substations

As Michigan Electric Transmission Company prepares to take over its outsourced operations in May 2007 from service provider Consumers Energy, customer recordkeeping and better data management are at the top of the startup's IT list. The ultimate goal is to add intelligence at the local-area substations that handle power distribution to customers by implementing technology to collect and analyze data to enable better service and reliability. The project, which started in late 2005, will take 7 or 8 years to complete.

"There is absolutely no real ITat the substations," says Paul Myrda, chief technologist and director of operations at Trans-Elect, METC's parent company. "The majority of the U.S. is still operating with electrical-mechanical relays."

METC is attempting to dust off that paradigm by installing an intelligent electricity network and outsourcing data management to an IBM hosting center. The utility signed a contract with IBM last July for consulting and hosting services.

The electricity transmission system transfers high-voltage power from generating facilities to 80 local-area substations, using 5,400 miles of overhead and underground transmission lines. At each of its substations, METC is installing GE microprocessorbased relays, video cameras for security, access control through key cards, weather stations, equipment monitoring devices and health apparatus.

The microprocessor relays will provide about 500 analog and 500 digital values, compared to a dozen, at most, with older equipment, Myrda says. The information from all of these devices will be collected and archived at the substations and then sent to the hosting center for analysis.

"The operational side is taking a quantum leap as far as the amount of intelligence that we are gathering at the substations and how we intend to use all that," he says.

The hosting center will support GE's PowerLink Advantage, a man-machine interface tool that mimics the activity at the substation. "It is relatively easy today, with the technology, to give people permissions to have rights of access to certain portions of the information that you are trying to manage--and protect others," explains Myrda. "There will be people that have a GE hat on that have access to relevant data on these relays to do settings, and that's not a technology issue, or anything else, that's just efficient business."

The METC team estimates the first phase of the substation upgrade project will cost $5 million. "We are growing, and we recognized the need for better data management," says Julie Couillard, executive VP and COO. "So you look at the cost of maintaining the aging infrastructure and the lack of data that comes out of what is there versus upgrading to these new systems and the data and information you can use to analyze your system."

The initial phase of the hosting project was finished in January. Apps used to develop the intelligent network, which supports open data exchange between IBM software and other commercial products, include IBM eServers, IBM WebSphere integration middleware, IBM-developed business intelligence analytics and dashboards, InStep's eDNA data historian software and CyberSecurity.

IBM's enterprise content management software (formerly Green Pastures) is the records and workflow management platform. MRO Software's Maximo Asset and IT Service Management software is also part of the mix. The hosting facility also houses some of METC's existing business systems, such as its financial app, which formerly resided at the company's headquarters. To help model information, about assets for example, METC leveraged the Utility Common Information Model. The IT team is also adopting the IEC 68150 self-describing architecture to develop highcapacity Ethernet connections at the substations.

The equipment and apps that need to be installed at the hosting center are up, and generation of test data is under way, reports Mryda. The first substation is scheduled to come online in April.

About the Author

Kathleen Richards (krichards@1105media.com) is the editor of RedDevNews.com and executive editor of Visual Studio Magazine.

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