Supplemental Reserve Power Pool Distributed Switching

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"We had the confidence from the start that we could develop this project with all NI technology, and we managed to go live in time, thanks to CompactRIO and LabVIEW."

- Jeffrey Habets, VI Technologies

The Challenge:
Creating a system to monitor and control emergency generators that are part of a supplemental operating reserves pool and located at customer's clients sites spread throughout the country.

The Solution:
Using NI LabVIEW system design software, LabVIEW Web services, and CompactRIO hardware to connect 30 remote units over the Internet, report their statuses every 10 seconds, and retrieve tasks to control grid-tied generators.

Jeffrey Habets - VI Technologies

Project Background

VI Technologies is a Silver NI Alliance Partner in the Netherlands. We are a small team of enthusiastic LabVIEW and NI TestStand developers. Our core business is test and measurement automation consulting, R&D, and process control.

One of our customers, Anode Energie, asked if we could develop a system to facilitate a new business case they were going to deploy – supplemental reserve power pools

Supplemental Reserve Power Pools

Supplemental reserve power helps keep the Dutch power grid balanced. Every business capable of generating power (for example, through emergency generators) could supply reserve power. TenneT, the Dutch power grid maintainer, only contracts facilities that can supply 20 MW or more. Smaller facilities, such as hospitals and data centers, can be gathered into a pool to meet the required 20 MW.

Our customer has a contract with TenneT to participate in the 20 MW standby, and has contracts with smaller parties who can supply 0.5 MW to 2 MW of power. These contracts basically state how much energy the parties can deliver, that they have to maintain the standby at all times, and that they have to react to a switch-command within a certain number of minutes. It is important to deliver enough power to TenneT on demand because there are financial penalties if the power is not delivered. Our challenge was to get this system, with 30 switch units and a server running Web services and a user interface (UI), up and running in only three months to meet contractual obligations between our customer and TenneT.

System Specifications

The specifications for the system included the following:

  • Remote switch units that can connect to the server via the Internet from behind a firewall and use a dynamic host configuration protocol for network configuration or an alternative manual configuration.
  • Server-side business logic.
  • Units that can pick up and install new firmware from the server and reboot on demand.
  • Units that have digital I/O to control and monitor two emergency generators; preannounce when the generators switch on; indicate health; and read kilowatt hour pulses.
  • Log unit tasks and status changes in the database.
  • Cluster units for the use of multiple pools
  • Command or monitor units from the UI individually, or as an entire cluster of units
  • Clear UI description of whether a unit is online or not
  • Various UI login levels for providing different functionality
  • Log all UI activity

Harnessing the Power of NI Technologies

Given the short time to market, we knew our proficiency with the LabVIEW environment and NI hardware would help us get this system up and running on time.

The remote switch units at the clients' sites are built around an NI cRIO-9075 real-time controller with two modules for digital I/O—a 4-channel NI 9481 relay module for switching emergency generators and indicator lights, and an NI 9435 universal digital input module for reading availability signals and counting kilowatt/hour pulses. CompactRIO has everything we needed, so we just built it in a housing with a power supply and a small RS232 LCD displaying its serial number and assigned IP address, and fed the module connectors and Ethernet through the housing panel.

Because we intended that the system communicate via the Internet, and most (if not all) units would be behind corporate firewalls, we implemented a polling mechanism where each unit is responsible for contacting the server every 10 seconds and giving it its current status. At the same time, the server responds to the unit with a new task or set of tasks. This could involve the following:

  • Switching emergency generator one and/or two on or off
  • Updating firmware
  • Sending logs

The switch units stay in contact with the server via Web service technology. The server monitors the status and gives tasks such as switch output on/off or update firmware. All units can be controlled and monitored via a Web interface on the server. Data is exchanged between the Web service and the UI application through a database that also keeps a history of status changes and events. We chose Web services and HTTPS as the communication protocol because corporate firewalls often only allow HTTPS.

Remote UI

We applied remote panels for a Web-based UI because of the short amount of time we had to implement the system, and because this is the fastest way to provide a front-end for the database with all the functionality we needed. Also, with the limited number of users for the UI, installing the LabVIEW Run-Time Engine was not a problem for the customer. The UI is a reentrant VI implemented in a stateless way, which makes it easy for multiple users to log in on the UI. In future development, our database-driven design will make it relatively easy to migrate to a lightweight Web UI through the LabVIEW Web UI Builder by providing a Web service API.

Current Usage and Future Plans

The supplemental reserve power pools have been a huge success, and many companies want to participate. Therefore, the system will be extended, with more units and added functionality. The system will probably be scaled up to approximately 90 units by the end of 2012. We recently added short message service and email features to quickly notify companies of certain events, such as when TenneT calls for reserve power and unit(s) are going offline. Another major change going live next year is 'partial calls' by TenneT. Instead of always delivering 20 MW when called for, we receive a setpoint with the call. The setpoint states the amount of power to be delivered, and the server interprets this and switches on the correct units to deliver that amount of power.

Even though we used CompactRIO and Web services in a unique way for this project, we solved our challenges through cooperation with NI engineers. We had the confidence from the start that we could develop this project with all NI technology, and we managed to go live in time, thanks to CompactRIO and LabVIEW.


Author Information:
Jeffrey Habets
VI Technologies
PO Box 237
Tel: +31 (0) 495 549457

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