With its customers deploying costly, critical power assets throughout the world, S&C Electric Company's monitoring service offers an attractive added value to manage those resources.
Not only must such assets have to operate at their optimum performance, but to maximize their operating life, preventive and condition-based maintenance must strike the right balance. Too much of either can result in excessive costs, but too little can force emergency responses and potentially costly failures when equipment problems arise.
Such is the approach S&C takes with its Global Support and Monitoring Centres, which provide monitoring for customers having sites in North America, the UK, the Middle East, and Australasia. The centres are located at S&C's Chicago headquarters and in Swansea, Wales, to ensure service redundancy and 24/7 response to potential problems that may arise in different parts of the globe.
The centres monitor more than 100 sites, and the numbers are growing as new projects come online. S&C tailors a strategy for each site to provide the right balance of services to ensure the assets are fully optimised to maximize their reliability while minimizing operation and maintenance costs.
Monitoring UPS and STATCOMs
The main equipment the centres monitor are S&C’s power-quality units, including medium voltage and smaller uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems and static compensators, Brad Usyak, S&C’s Global Support and Monitoring Centre manager, tells Engerati in an interview. The UPS systems ensure power supply during the transition to back-up generators when outages occur. S&C’s PureWave® DSTATCOM Distributed Static Compensator provides reactive power to transmission systems, with particular application at wind farms. In the United Kingdom alone, S&C monitors a combined output of 500 MW from static var compensators located at wind farms.
For an industrial water treatment facility that, unlike a typical utility, doesn’t have its own SCADA system, the centres can monitor other equipment, such as transformers.
“We monitor many hundreds of conditions,” Usyak explains, noting that any departure from defined “normal conditions” for monitored equipment automatically triggers an alert in the monitoring centre. “Many of these are unlikely to be of interest to the operator, such as a cooling fan tripping or a switch being opened, but they enable us to build up a complete picture of what is happening to avoid potential bigger problems.”
For example, a cooling fan tripping might not be significant in itself, but if multiple fans were to trip and remain undetected, the equipment could overheat and potentially fail. Alternatively, there may be indications when equipment is starting to fail, enabling customers to initiate preventive maintenance so the equipment keeps working longer.
“What we believe is most meaningful for our customers is that, while they generally have a high-level view from SCADA visibility, we know our equipment inside out and understand all the conditions we are monitoring,” Usyak says. “There may be a hundred alerts of which only three are key ones, and we can sift through to find those.”
The Global Support and Monitoring Centre provides 24/7 monitoring of the main power transformers, circuit breakers, bus-tie breakers and circuit switchers associated with three substations owned by a southern US regional water utility. The utility introduced monitoring after discovering an operating issue with the main power transformers during a routine inspection. Had the problem continued and led to a substation outage, utility pumping stations would have lost power, potentially leaving up to 1.6 million residents without water in a hot climate. Millions of dollars in damages could have been incurred. An example of monitoring the centre undertakes is Dissolved Gas Analysis, which gauges gas levels developed within a transformer by incipient faults. The levels of specific gases, such as hydrocarbon acetylene, alert centre’s technicians to the presence of internal arcing and potential future equipment failure. Besides the 24/7 monitoring, S&C also provides routine annual inspections and maintenance on the three substations.
Acting on GSMC alerts
Once it receives an alert, the monitoring centre’s investigating team swings into action. Is it a new condition that has emerged suddenly, or perhaps it is maintenance related?
“We work closely with the customers and would notify them if we see a fan trip so they can go and investigate it,” Usyak says. “Or if we know a customer is going to take a piece of equipment out of service for maintenance, then we will know how to respond to any alerts.”
The first call is to the customer, but S&C also has field-service teams on the ground that can mobilize and receive support from the monitoring centre should work become necessary.
S&C offers an initial two-year monitoring period, which also covers commissioning and start-up. Customers also may choose to supplement the monitoring with asset management and maintenance services.
“We encourage monitoring because it gives us greater visibility,” Usyak says. “The ability to connect remotely to a piece of equipment means we can draw on our engineering team in the US to look at it if there is an issue. But we also believe that because the equipment is costly and complex, it should be maintained correctly.”
Both of the US and the UK Global Support and Monitoring Centres operate using the same processes and procedures, and all alerts are sent to both centres. But the response will emanate from whichever one is the duty centre at the time.
A typical shift will see on the order of 100 alerts, of which the majority are informational – “but we acknowledge and note them all,” Usyak says.
Besides the monitoring, the centres’ other core responsibility is technical support for customers of all S&C products via a toll-free number.
“As the first tier of support for our products, our team in the centre is a key one in the company,” Usyak says. “If we are unable to answer a question, we can escalate it to the subject matter expert for a higher level of support. We’ve been operating for three years now, and we have a great team that’s taking calls and responding to the equipment.”
S&C’s Global Support and Monitoring Centres are a vital first line defence against a small problem becoming a big and expensive issue. They provides a cost-effective service to ensure critical power equipment is performing at its optimum output and providing the best value.