Power Generating Station Utilizes Text Messaging

"Safety first, equipment safety next, and then energy production." Those are the priorities that Dave McMullan, Production Specialist at Xcel Energy's Pawnee Generation Station lives by.

Xcel Energy is a major U.S. electric and natural gas company with annual revenues of $10.3 billion. Based in Minneapolis, Minn., and operating in eight states, they provide a comprehensive portfolio of energy-related products and services to 3.4 million electricity customers and 1.9 million natural gas customers.

Pawnee Generating Station

Pawnee Generating Station located in Brush Colorado has a comprehensive control system that enables reliable operations and state-of-the-art diagnostic troubleshooting. This coal-fired, steam-electric generating station produces 505 megawatts (MW). The entire process is controlled by an Emerson Distributed Control Solution (DCS) called Ovation. "There is a lot to keep track of, from emission levels and generation output to wind direction" said McMullan. "If the plant goes 'off', which means we stop producing electricity, it's extremely expensive."

For a long time Xcel Energy had been looking for a system that would allow them to monitor all of the process variables and potential alarm conditions and enable them to notify the appropriate people quickly and easily.

They chose TopView Alarm Management and Notification software.

"We have setup the TopView system to send text messages for all sorts of events" Said McMullan. "We have standard messages which can have variables embedded in them so that the recipient not only knows the condition but can see the details or severity behind that event."

Safety first

Xcel Energy's core business is to provide safe, reliable energy to customers. One of the top priorities of the text message notification system was to ensure the safe operation of the plant. For example the permit under which the Pawnee Station has been authorized to operate sets levels of various gases and other emissions. McMullan explains; "we have set our own acceptable levels to be even lower, so that as we approach those levels our operation managers and chemical technicians get notified and can take action so we don't exceed the permitted levels." This not only provides a safer environment but avoids having to file complicated EPA reports if standard levels are exceeded.

Equipment safety next

In those cases where the plant does go off, it is critical to understand the cause so that it may be remedied quickly. The Pawnee Station has set up a cause code system for their text messages in the event of a shut down or malfunction. Each code represents a cause and is texted to plant managers and maintenance personnel. So a 'Code 1' might indicate a certain cause such a cooling problem and a 'Code 2' would be associated with another issue. "First and foremost, this helps us identify and correct the issue quickly" said McMullan, "while also allowing us to track the associated causes by category".

Energy Production

Xcel Energy's name reflects their core value which is; excellence in energy products and services. It is imperative that they provide seamless energy production, so in the event that the plant does go offline for any reason, the Pawnee station uses their text messaging system to track the start up process. "The start up process is quite tedious and complicated and several key people need to get continuous progress reports during this operation" explains McMullan. They use the TopView notifications for each successful step such as being Re-synchronized with the grid, to make sure that the system gets up and running as quickly as possible.

Power plants like the Pawnee Generating Station are continually staffed so they don't require remote monitoring. However, by adding event message notification, they have been able to improve their efficiencies, reducing costly downtime and enhance safety. "Having TopView has become part of our day-to-day life" said Dave McMullan. "It's like having a remote control for your TV set; you forget what it was like before you had it."

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