Tacoma Power, located in Tacoma, WA, serves 160,000 electric utility customers with nine hydro facilities on four rivers. The company’s generation automation team, consisting of three engineers and one engineering technician, is responsible for the integration, modernization, and maintenance of industrial control systems for:
- 23 hydroelectric generators that generate 3 billion kilowatt hours of electricity each year
- 4 fish hatcheries to support wildlife conservation
- 3 fish collection facilities
- 9 unmanned hydro facilities
With a small staff responsible for overseeing a number of different environments, the company was looking to implement its HMI/SCADA system in a virtual environment for automation and control in order to optimize operations and reduce costs.
To make the business case for virtualization, Tacoma Power management reviewed the costs and benefits. The justification was clear, as the company proved a small upfront investment with savings in the long run through speed, uptime, and significant risk reduction. With approval and support to proceed at the executive level, Tacoma Power added virtualization to its regular budget for system life-cycle replacement, leveraged an IT consultant for expert advice, and planned its deployment process.
The company deployed a multi-phase virtualization project with GE Digital’s HMI/SCADA iFIX using Microsoft Hyper-V across its hydroelectric and fish hatchery facilities. In addition to visualization and control, Tacoma Power also implemented iFIX for trending, troubleshooting, and continuous optimization. Data collection and management is critical for regulatory reporting as well as day-to-day operations. And, giving operators access to HMI screens from remote devices was important for speeding response to hatchery related alarms.
“We carefully compared the benefits of a virtual environment with traditional practices and built the business case for migrating to virtualization. Planning and developing best practices have allowed us to maximize the benefits, such as maintenance cost savings and reduced risk.” - Ozan Ferrin, Generation Automation Engineering Supervisor
Tacoma Power implemented the virtualization environment in a phased approach. The company started in their development environment—creating a new virtual machine that is able to be viewed on two screens with visibility on a terminal. In phase two, the company installed iFIX with soft licensing in the virtual environment. Phase three involved pilot deployment at the first generating plant. Tacoma Power incorporated the virtual deployment into the plant’s regular hardware and software upgrade schedule, which eliminated any possibility of extra disruption, downtime, or cost.
Leading the power industry with virtualization, Tacoma Power expects to complete the migration of all power generation automation systems within five years. With the current implementations under their belt, the company has seen greater reliability, such as no fan or power supply failures. If for some reason a thin client were to fail, Tacoma Power would not lose any data. Additionally, the team has been able to combine other applications into the virtual system for use by other peer groups.