New system allows two plants to act as one
By Hesh Kagan
When it all comes down to it, implementing a successful process plan all hinges on optimizing people and increasing productivity. If you cannot end increase either one of those, then why go through the turmoil of change.
Along those lines, the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) needed to change. They saw what the end benefits would be, so they moved forward with a wireless system that would bring together a 40-year-old power plant with a six-year-old plant.
Amidst the extreme vastness of central Texas, you can find the Lost Pines Power Park in Bastrop. The park houses both the LCRA-owned Sim Gideon Power Plant and the Lost Pines Power Project, owned by Gen-Tex, an LCRA affiliate.
Built in 1965, the Sim Gideon Power Plant is a three unit, natural gas plant with a power generating capacity of 620 megawatts. Because of upgrades resulting in improvements in efficiency and unit response, the 40-year-old Sim Gideon plant now plays an active role in the highly profitable ancillary services market, and all three units continue to contribute generation capacity in Texas, while providing a new revenue stream for LCRA.
The Lost Pines Power Project is a natural gas-fired, combined-cycle unit. Originally built in partnership with Calpine, Lost Pines began operation in May 2001 and can generate up to 545 megawatts of electricity. It is 30 to 40% more efficient than traditional gas-fired plants.
Together, the Sim Gideon and Lost Pines Power Project plants can generate enough electricity to meet the peak demands of 250,000 homes.
In an effort to increase productivity, LCRA just merged these two plants under one functional management system and implemented a new layered WiMax/WiFi wireless infrastructure to help link the two plants and provide the foundation for a number of other wireless-enabled applications that could keep these plants efficient and profitable well into the future.
Two as one
With the two plants merging, one of the first requirements was the need to implement a single communication system spanning both plants, since the lack of a common communication system was having a negative affect on personnel utilization and productivity. The Sim Gideon public address system was more than 40 years old, unreliable, and limited to that one plant. After investigating various options for a new, sitewide communication system, it was obvious a wired communication replacement/expansion system would be more expensive than a wireless solution. The wireless approach also offered additional opportunities for future return on investment.
When the concept of a wireless “umbrella” first came up, it became immediately obvious this represented a more cost-effective solution for implementing the new communications system. Rather than utilizing wires, the new voice communications system could utilize wireless VoIP technology to help unify the two plants. Furthermore, this wireless network could provide the infrastructure to implement additional productivity, enhancing applications across the site (and beyond). Potential applications included operator mobility, wireless equipment condition monitoring, remote monitoring of levels in the tank farm, and others not yet even on the radar.
Based on the cost savings of the sitewide VoIP communications system and the potential to implement any number of additional wireless-enabled applications as needed over time, LCRA decided to move forward.
Open the umbrella
The first step was to perform a comprehensive site assessment study to determine coverage and specific equipment placement requirements. LCRA conducted the study along with the supplier and a third party provider.
The study led to the design and implementation of an industrial-quality, managed wireless network infrastructure spanning the entire facility. This infrastructure encompasses 51 WiFi access points throughout the facility and a high bandwidth 802.16 backhaul network using a simple antenna configuration and placement to create a 360 degree (pre-standard) WiMax wireless umbrella, accessible throughout the site.
WiMax provides wide bandwidth wireless coverage throughout the Lost Pines and Sim Gideon power plants. The WiMax broadband connection acts as virtual fiber from the Lost Pines Plant to the Sim Gideon Plant area, enabling the two plants to share and communicate with the same VoIP system.
The wireless solution LCRA implemented uses a system to provide a common platform for managing and securing the network. This platform includes a centralized application that manages data services, workflow, security, monitoring and maintenance, and third party application integration. Management software continually monitors the health, performance, and integrity of the overall wireless infrastructure to insure optimal performance of quality-of-service (QoS)-based applications such as voice, in a shared data environment. Management functions include:
Monitoring all access points for real-time failure
Monitoring network for rouge device detection
Control of all device management of network gateways and access points
Handling and organizing all system backhaul
Reporting on all wireless data activity
Managing application-specific communications and data
Potential for continuous monitoring of system to meet future NERC cyber security requirements
This managed wireless infrastructure provides a secure and flexible platform for implementing wireless-enabled applications and organizing all wireless data in one system within and beyond the boundaries of the Lost Pines Power Park.
In addition to all hardware and software, the solution included project management, engineering, and ongoing lifecycle services such as site analysis; technology selection; infrastructure design and implementation, and performance monitoring, security management, and continuous network optimization.
Cost cut back
By eliminating the need for costly Ethernet services, the WiMax network covering the entire Lost Pines Power Park provided a cost-effective platform for implementing sitewide public address, paging, and mobile voice communications applications.
The new sitewide public address system integrates the existing wired loudspeakers previously installed in Sim Gideon plant plant with new wireless loudspeakers installed in the Lost Pines power plant. This allowed the plant to provide sitewide public address capabilities throughout the entire Lost Pines Power Park. The sitewide public address system, in turn, integrates with a mobile, intelligent VoIP communications system.
The lightweight, wearable personal communicator badges provide employees at both power plants with instant, hands-free wireless voice communications and/or text messaging with other individuals or functions. Users control the personal communicators with naturally spoken commands, such as “get me Pete Simpson” or “I need Sim Gideon maintenance.” Integration with the existing PBX system also enables users to use their communication badges to place hands-free calls to locations beyond the wireless network.
The VoIP system consists of the software and server at the management control center and individual communication badges for personnel. The wireless communications operate over an 802.11b frequency through an access point at that local mesh network. The command is sent to the VoIP server residing at the central management control center. The server manages all users, security, data, and communications.
The sitewide public address and personal communications systems provide voice communications and loudspeaker broadcasting throughout the facility to improve productivity for daily activities, and they also provide the capability for sitewide emergency broadcasts to alert all personnel for evacuations and notifications to emergency response services.
After getting the wireless network in place, additional productivity-enhancing, applications under consideration at the LCRA Lost Pines Power Park include:
Remote monitoring and control of remote river pumping
Video perimeter security surveillance
Video process monitoring
Remote equipment condition monitoring
Ammonia leak detection/alarming
Fuel oil tank farm level monitoring
Material transfer monitoring
Mobile operations capability via tablet PCs or PDAs that would provide process control operators with wireless access to the control systems is currently installed in the Sim Gideon and Lost Pines power plants.
With wireless VoIP, field workers can now communicate hands free with each other anywhere in the park within the wireless network or beyond. This means employees do not have to fumble trying to locate and use a microphone or radio. Voice activation enables quick and easy location of other team members, which leads to more efficient teamwork and increased productivity.
Installing this wireless network across the plant created a scalable architecture so LCRA can implement future applications and they can continue to optimize field workers’ processes, increase business productivity, reduce costs, improve customer service levels, and automate processes through innovative wireless applications.
“We’re always looking at new technologies that can help us maintain our competitive edge while meeting or exceeding regulatory requirements,” said David Runkle, production manager at LCRA’s Lost Pines Power Park. The new system “enabled us to unify both plants in the Lost Pines Power Park under a common communications system at a fraction of the cost of a wired solution, while providing an extremely flexible platform for future wireless-enabled applications, including remote equipment condition monitoring and tank farm level monitoring.”
“Some of the lessons we’ve learned include the absolute necessity to get IT involved early and to form a cross-functional project team early to encourage maximum cooperation between the plant engineering, operations, and corporate information technology (IT) departments,” Runkle said. “It’s also important to take a comprehensive approach, so as not to allow wireless apps to start proliferating in an unmanageable, ad hoc manner.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Harris (Hesh) Kagan is president of the Wireless Industrial Network Association (WINA) and director of technology for services, applications, and solutions marketing for Invensys Process Systems. His e-mail is Hesh.Kagan@ips.invensys.com.