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The Power of SCADA

iPower, a SCADA system developed specifically for the electricity industry, leverages GE Fanuc’s Proficy HMI/SCADA iFIX and Proficy Historian for a unique approach to the needs of rural co-ops for high-quality, yet affordable automation and control.

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Dakota Electric Association (DEA), founded in 1937 by a group of farmers, is a member-owned, non-profit electric utility serving parts of Dakota, Goodhue, Scott and Rice counties, just south of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn. Covering 507 miles and serving more than 95,000 members, Dakota Electric is the second-largest electric cooperative in Minnesota and is ranked among the 20 largest electric distribution cooperatives nationally.

The company is committed to providing reliable, affordable, electric energy and a high level of personal service to members and their communities. Because Dakota County cities are growing rapidly, Dakota Electric Association acquires approximately 2,200 new members each year.

To serve its ever-growing population, DEA had to upgrade its obsolete Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) master station, the most critical real-time system in the business, which serves as the central monitoring and control system used by the electric company to operate its electricity network. As SCADA systems age, they can become unreliable and are difficult to interface to the other computer systems in the business, making it hard for the company to integrate business processes and access critical data.

Dakota Electric turned to New Zealand-based Catapult Software, which has been developing SCADA software products and installing SCADA systems for the electricity industry since 1991. The company develops iPower, a product specifically for electric utility SCADA operations that is based on GE Fanuc’s Proficy HMI/SCADA iFIX, a robust Human-Machine Interface (HMI) and SCADA solution providing process visualization, data acquisition and supervisory control of operations.

iPower delivers a modern, sophisticated and “evergreen” SCADA software to electric utilities, and includes all of the safety, performance, reliability and management needs to efficiently operate an electric network.

The Best of Both Worlds

When one of Catapult Software’s electric distribution customers asked Catapult to look at the available SCADA systems, Catapult found that existing systems fell into two camps—those that were developed specifically for the electric industry and those control systems developed for larger factory automation markets. The first seemed overly expensive, yet typically lagged behind current industry standards and trends. The second are sold in high volumes, deliver considerably more sophistication and are much better priced. The factory automation systems’ shortcoming was a lack of specific functionality required for electric distribution SCADA.

“iPower was developed to deliver the best of both worlds,” said Tony Haresnape, president of Catapult Software. “We started with a market-leading, sophisticated control system in Proficy HMI/SCADA iFIX from GE Fanuc. We added the software services needed to meet the requirements of electric distribution SCADA. The result is a sophisticated Windows-based SCADA system, affordable and perfect for the needs of rural electric cooperatives.”

“The needs of electric distribution cooperatives were not met by SCADA suppliers,” said Randy Poulson, vice president, Engineering Services for Dakota Electric. “iPower SCADA software offers full-featured, safe, reliable and affordable SCADA suitable for distribution cooperatives of any size.”

The iPower application is at the very center of the safe and reliable delivery of electricity to DEA’s customer base. Dakota Electric is a distribution cooperative. Distribution cooperatives provide electric service directly to residential and commercial/industrial members.

Each electricity substation has a Remote Terminal Unit (RTU), an Input/Output device similar to a Programmable Logic Controller (PLC). The RTU is wired to analog and digital transducers, relaying their current value/state back to the iPower SCADA computers in the power company’s control room. The control room is usually in the power company’s headquarters, while the substations are spread across the power network. Communication to the RTUs from the control room is often accomplished by radio.

Human operators monitor the state of the electricity network at the iPower workstations by monitoring the system through the information from the RTUs. Analog data includes voltages and currents at key locations and digital data includes the state of the circuit breakers. Alarm and event processing are other important monitoring tools. In addition, operators perform controls such as remote opening and closing of circuit breakers.

OPC is used to facilitate this information exchange, through the hundreds of I/O drivers that enable iPower to communicate with a wide range of RTUs, PLCs and other I/O devices. GE Fanuc offers the OPC Driver Toolkit, which is a plug-in component to iFIX that provides the tools to easily develop high performance, reliable I/O servers to communicate between the system hardware and iFIX, OLE Automation, and OPC client applications.

High performance I/O drivers provide such capabilities as automatic communication error detection, reporting and recovery; built-in datascopes; and support for redundant communications. OPC drivers available for iPower include industry standards such as DNP 3.0, IEC870/5 and ICCP.

Getting Graphic

The system assists with a clear, concise display of information—a single picture that overviews the whole power network. The operators use this picture to drill down to individual substation pictures to see detail supported by alarms and events lists. The application, which handles approximately 20,000 tags, is designed to present critical information in a clear and intuitive way so that operators are not swamped with flashing lights and alarms during a storm that causes outages.

It is important to DEA that they reduce outage time. Critical measures for the success of the utility are the average time to repair any outage, and the number of outages they incur in a year. The SCADA system is a critical tool to help them quickly understand the state of the network and effect repairs. The system also assists in safe operation, to prevent, for example, a circuit breaker from accidentally operating while linesmen were repairing a power line.

From a reporting perspective, the company needed two different aspects addressed by iPower. First, after a major event such as a storm that caused an outage, they wanted to review the sequence of events to learn the root cause of the outage and also to understand how the network behaved. iPower adds a detailed events record to Proficy HMI/SCADA iFIX to make this possible. The information is time stamped down to one millisecond by the RTU. It also gives the company a precise and long term record of everything each operator has done.

In addition, Dakota Electric needed historical information about how the demand for electricity has varied over the past day, week and month. The company uses GE Fanuc’s Proficy Historian for this purpose. This information is critical to DEA to understand how to reliably and cost effectively deliver power to meet the needs of their customers.

iFIX features Graphic Dynamos that are reusable, animated objects or groups of objects that enable the creation of graphic elements quickly and easily. Graphic Dynamo sets provide a number of predefined objects such as circuit breakers and transformers, which can be dropped into the WorkSpace to save development time.

Catapult Software took the Graphic Dynamo concept in iFIX to the next step in iPower with complex objects that represent the real world. For example, a Transformer Dynamo becomes more than the transformer graphic, it also automatically links to the 20 to 30 analog and digital tags in the iFIX database that relate to the real-world transformer. This means that to configure a transformer on a picture requires one drag-and-drop, not 20 or 30.

“The software is so easy to install and configure it is possible for cooperative staff to do much of that work with very minimal training,” said Len Jewell, technical systems manager for Dakota Electric. “With iPower, the days of having someone else build your new SCADA system at the factory and you attending never-ending factory testing and training sessions are over.”

The company is now in the latter stages of deploying its new iPower SCADA system based on Proficy HMI/SCADA iFIX. They chose the system after reviewing the existing options on the market, and after extensive bench-testing by DEA engineers. “SCADA systems don’t need to be complicated and difficult. It doesn’t have to be hard to share information between SCADA and office systems,” said Brian Kinstad, SCADA Engineer for Dakota Electric. “Upgrading the software can be as easy as upgrading Microsoft Office. You can find a lot of good features in an affordable SCADA systems and the people putting it together can have fun doing it.”

Achieving Goals

The results for DEA are clear. From a customer perspective, implementation of iPower for iFIX delivers more reliable service and therefore fewer outages, and when there is an outage, it is shorter in duration. From an internal business perspective, Dakota Electric has more ability to integrate SCADA data with other business data so that they are able to find and make efficiency gains, and accurately tune their business. And, with good history and reports that detail the behavior of their network, they are able to improve the efficiency of the network and ultimately lower the cost of electricity for its members.

For more information about solutions from GE Fanuc, visit

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