Novel management for remote power plants

Jon Lawson

Managing remote power generation sites has its own challenges, not least in terms of the efficient monitoring of operations. Slovenian renewables producer Gorenjske Elektrarne has resolved these challenges using a novel and technologically advanced IoT solution which combines Copa-Data’s software zenon with Microsoft’s Azure cloud services.

Gorenjske Elektrarne is a subsidiary of Elektro Gorenjska, one of Slovenia’s leading energy utility companies. It specialises in the development of power from renewable sources, including solar and hydroelectric power. Given the nature of its power sources, many of the company’s power generation sites are in remote and difficult terrain. This can present challenges in terms of the monitoring and control of remote locations.

Gorenjske Elektrarne’s use of Copa-Data’s SCADA software began in 2006 when a refurbishment project at Gorenjske Elektrarne’s Soteska hydroelectric power station used zenon for the plant’s local control and monitoring systems.

The next refurbishment project was at the Sorica 125 kW Small Hydroelectric Power Plant (SHPP), in 2007. zenon was implemented as a local SCADA system to control operations, record key plant parameters, enable the visualisation of the complete SHPP, alert engineers to alarm states and suboptimal operation, and enable further operational analysis and optimisation.

The plant control system refurbishment with zenon resulted in an operational cost reduction of 30% and a 15% production increase through the elimination of downtime and sub-optimal operation.

“For us, it was important to optimise production costs and gain an overview of all operational parameters,” stated Aleš Ažman, Director at Gorenjske Elektrarne. “zenon has helped us to achieve this and, in doing so, has helped us improve the power stations’ output and reduce associated operational costs.”

Gorenjske Elektrarne owns and operates 15 hydropower plants, 23 photovoltaic plants and three combined cycle plants across Slovenia. The next step will be to integrate smaller plants and combined cycle plants.

Given the geographical constraints of Gorenjske Elektrarne’s business, the company has had to deploy a mix of communications solutions to meet its requirements for a centralised overview of its operations. It would be cost-prohibitive for Gorenjske Elektrarne to build its own communication network over such a wide geographic area, so the company has had to rely on IP-VPN over leased lines and, in some very remote locations, satellite connectivity.

Satellite communications are unreliable and zenon has had a key role to play in network monitoring and the security of communication equipment. This led Gorenjske Elektrarne to explore the possibilities of using zenon in combination with Microsoft’s Cloud platform Azure, including the Azure IoT Suite.

Using the Azure RemoteApp means the information from Gorenjske Elektrarne’s control centre can be visualised without delay on mobile clients. Employees simply install RemoteApp clients on their internet-connected PCs, tablets or phones and are then able to securely access the zenon application.

With little up-front investment and no specialised hardware, Gorenjske Elektrarne can ensure every member of the team who needs it has an operational overview across 36 distributed power generation sites.

Users can view alarms, events, trends and reports as and when they need to with minimum fuss. Azure automatically flexes with demand – so that occasional bursts of activity in response to an incident or alarm condition are fully supported with no loss of performance.

“One of the reasons we chose to standardise on Copa-Data’s software is the excellent technical knowledge of the Copa-Data team,” explained Čadež. “We know that they will leverage the most promising new technologies early and, what’s more, they don’t do this for the sake of it; only where it delivers real tangible benefits for customers. This is what ensures that zenon solutions are reliable, efficient and easy to use.”

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