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Technology Corridor

Reliability demands will drive automation investments.
Fortnightly Magazine - November 1 2003

You don't do it all at once."

Implementation would begin on a regional basis, starting with a single control area, for example. But even this incremental approach will take many years. The reason is that much of the technology-particularly the simulation software-doesn't exist yet. Further, an overarching control architecture would present security risks that necessitate especially robust countermeasures.

"In the worst case, computers can be taken over by terrorists and set to confuse the FACTS network to do exactly the wrong thing," says Dr. Bruce McMillin, professor of computer science at the University of Missouri-Rolla. If such problems can be resolved, he says, "we can build and deploy a FACTS network that will be resilient to failure."

Developing such a network may be a worthwhile endeavor, but lawmakers and ratepayers seem likely to demand an immediate solution that keeps the lights burning while the long-term plan develops. Fortunately, short-term solutions might be hiding in the existing hardware.

"With respect to information technology, there is potential that utilities haven't exploited within their own systems," AMR's Feblowitz says. "There are simple things that companies can do to enhance reliability using the technology they have, without investing tens of millions of dollars."

For example, she explains that software vendors already offer tools that analyze data from SCADA systems to identify potential trouble spots. "Also, there may be situations where companies can get greater visibility into the applications that they have, like portal structures with security at each level," she says.

Such portals would allow operators to monitor data coming from tens of thousands of nodes, and to see patterns that might otherwise be invisible. On Aug. 14, "greater visibility across the control areas would have been helpful," she says.

Next time around, such visibility could help operators understand what's happening on a stressed grid, and take appropriate corrective actions before a crisis develops. And only with such understanding can the industry hope to meet the expectations of an increasingly power-hungry and outage-intolerant marketplace.


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