State-of-the-Art Control Center -- High-tech Tools Integrate Renewables

Yakout Mansour

There is a new tool sharpening California's renewable vision. It is in the form of a state-of-the-art system control center that houses the first dedicated renewables dispatch facility in the nation. As the state approaches a goal of generating 20 percent of its power from renewable resources, which escalates to an ambitious 33 percent by 2020, ensuring reliability brings new meaning to California grid operations. The California Independent System Operator anticipated this new era and designed a mission-critical wing at its new headquarters that hosts one of the most modern control centers in the world.

Advanced grid visualization and other technology is now at the fingertips of ISO operators as they manage a 25,000 circuit-mile transmission system and the competitive power market that supports operations. Robust systems provide increased reliability and efficiency, readying the ISO to respond to the most challenging conditions including sudden changes in electrical demand, power plant disruptions or fast-moving fires and other natural disasters. Operators on 12-hour shifts also value adjustable-height work consoles.

The new tools focus on fast start up of power plants, voltage stability, renewable forecasting, congestion management and reliability. Computer systems provide this information with pictures rather than thousands of individual data points. For example, in an 80-foot-wide by 6.5-foot-high video wall, displays contain multiple layers of information at a glance and quickly alert operators of potential problems. Ten new visualization screens display information including a series of customized screens the ISO partnered with Space-Time Insight and Google to create. The geospatial technology provides wind and solar patterns as well as real-time production. Fire and severe weather tracking screens detect grid events with visualization tools that help operators zero in on pertinent information that leads to sound decisions.

A new energy management system provides the latest application software on the newest server hardware. This increases performance and automation functions. It also enhances wind and solar performance forecasting as well as advance weather prediction to anticipate consumer demand on the grid. The new control center also uses visual monitoring units that provide operators with better access to precise grid data at a fast rate. The synchrophasor technology takes a pulse of the power grid every 33 milliseconds rather than the old standard of every four seconds.The official move to the new headquarters in January exemplifies California's commitment to the environment. Not only does the new control center provide high-tech visualization tools that help integrate diverse resources, it also showcases sustainable building design and is expected to achieve a high rating for efficiency and sustainability as designated by the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED program. The control center itself is a mini-power plant with a photovoltaic-covered roof that, combined with PV carports on site, generates up to 750 kilowatts or about a quarter of the facility's energy needs.

This article was originally published in the May/June 2011 issue of EnergyBiz magazine.

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