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Utilities Get "Defense"-ive

How cutting-edge military technologies can help solve some of the industry’s most critical issues.

Fortnightly Magazine - June 2006

from both an operational perspective and a technology perspective that must be overcome for utility organizations to reach the level of flexibility necessary to run efficiently and effectively in an increasingly more dynamic operating environment.

However, most industry experts believe these deficiencies can be overcome through technology. In fact, a recent report submitted to Congress by the Energy Department and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) contends that “technology currently exists that could be used to establish a real-time transmission monitoring system to improve the reliability of the nation’s bulk power system; and emerging technologies hold the promise of greatly enhancing transmission-system integrity and operator situational awareness, thereby reducing the possibility of regional and inter-regional blackouts.”

A recent white paper on advanced transmission technologies prepared by experts from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the University of Illinois states “there is a massive backlog of prototype technology that can, given the means and incentives, be adapted to power system applications.” That’s where lessons and technologies from the defense industry apply. Because we can draw upon proven technologies and common experiences, we already have the tools and knowledge to architect, develop, and deploy technology to support complex utility business and operating processes.

Intelligent Agents for Control-Room Issues

The glaring lack of tools available to better manage the transmission grid continues to dog the industry. FERC has pointed to the need to develop new tools that help control-room operators identify, respond to, and track transmission system errors and events. Unfortunately, that is easier said than done. Whether within a regional transmission organization, an independent system operator, or at different utilities, operators are using disparate legacy systems to deal with massive amounts of information in multiple formats.

The military has dealt with similar challenges when attempting to share information across multiple systems to track the resources of each different military branch. For years, each military branch had its own technology systems that operated independently of the other services. If the Army was attempting to destroy a target in a given area, it would have no ability to access or even see the resources of other services in close proximity to that target in real-time.

For instance, an Air Force fighter jet might be within a mile of its target, but because the Army couldn’t access Air Force systems and see that the jet was available, it might re-route an Army plane from 30 miles away to execute the mission, wasting valuable time and resources. Army soldiers on the ground could provide valuable information to Air Force pilots (and vice versa) if an electronic link between the two was available. The Army refers to this as shared situational analysis (SSA).

The military has made tremendous strides in breaking down those information walls and creating technology vehicles to promote SSA among the different military branches. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has said, “Possibly the most transforming thing in our force, will not be a weapons system, but a set of interconnections.”

“Smart Logging”

The military is using a combination of interoperability and intelligent agent technologies to create those