65c120724aed21001ebc4fd5 Figure 3 Roaming Hmi

Wireless gives power plant operators room to roam

Feb. 5, 2024
Lucky Peak’s tablet PCs implement Phoenix Contact’s implement secure WLAN radios at its hydropower facility

As part of an overall digitalization project, managers at the 101-megawatt (MW) Lucky Peak hydropower plant wanted to give their operators and technicians easier data access throughout the facility, as well as more situational awareness when installing or troubleshooting new devices near the powerhouse’s turbines. To overcome all the electrical interference in this setting, as well as signals blocked by its concrete infrastructure, Lucky Peak recently worked with Phoenix Contact to develop secure wireless networking for their roaming HMIs to provide real-time visibility into the utility’s remote assets, and make the plant more efficient, safe and collaborative.

Located about 10 miles southeast of Boise, Idaho, the plant is situated at the foot of the Lucky Peak dam on the Boise River. The 340 x 2,340 ft, rolled-earth dam was built in the 1950s for irrigation and flood control, while the powerhouse was completed in 1988. It’s owned by the Boise-Kuna Irrigation District, and its hydrogeneration plant is operated and maintained by Seattle City Light.

Historically, if staffers wanted to view the results of adjustments to equipment in the turbine pits, they had to be physically present in the control room. This lack of visibility caused alarm issues due to truncated data. The utility decided that digitalization was necessary for efficiency, safety and future-proofing projects, while its engineers advocated for a secure, wireless option that would enable user mobility and safety near the turbine pits.


Consequently, Lucky Peak implemented Phoenix Contact’s wireless local area network (WLAN) radios to relay data from the web-based Ignition SCADA software system monitoring its turbines and other equipment to Dell Latitude rugged tablet PCs placed in key operational locations (Figure 1). Two of three planned HMIs went live in May 2023, and let users see real-time information, fault data, and the rest of their processes as they work, rather than having to back and forth between the plant and control room. Phoenix Contact’s Network Engineering Services team supported the wireless installation with a site survey, configuration services, and Ignition programming support. The system is also backed up by Phoenix Contact’s Quint power supplies and surge protection to ensure reliable power.

“We have operators all over the place and all over the plant. The roaming HMIs let them grab a tablet and go up to a piece of equipment—some of which still have manual controls—and make changes with more accuracy and confidence,” says Derek Stone, systems integration specialist at Lucky Peak. “Some of these devices have alarms and shutdowns, so accurate data is especially necessary.”

Find the frequency

Ben Prier, senior business development manager for electric power at Phoenix Contact, reports 400 MHz or 900 MHz would have been ideal frequencies to use in the powerhouse environment to manage the electrical interference and concrete structures, but it wouldn’t give Lucky Peak the data pipeline required for its roaming HMI applications.

“We needed a higher frequency’s shorter wavelength, so we tried 2.4 GHz, which did OK because its signal was stronger,” says Prier. “Because we were under the turbines, we had to double check antenna placement and signal strength. The tradeoff we were willing to make by using 2.4 GHz gave us a more robust wireless platform for our roaming HMI application. This also let us efficiently separate our newly deployed SCADA/HMI wireless network from their administrative wireless network, which used the 5 GHz spectrum.”

Danny Walters, product marketing specialist for wireless products at Phoenix Contact, adds “There’s a growing desire by users to digitalize to make greater use of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) in the operations technology (OT) space, which lags the mainstream consumer space. OT wants to explore IIoT to get more data, more often, and more accessibly. As IIoT solutions are deployed in the OT space, spectrum capacity issues arise. For example, too many Wi-Fi devices can cause performance issues for a Wi-Fi network.”

To address wireless capacity issues, Walters reports there are two primary solutions, namely an improved version of Wi-Fi called Wi-Fi 6E, or a private cellular network, such as private LTE or private 5G. “Regular Wi-Fi is good, but the downside is that a lot of other nearby devices can use it, and that’s why capacity issues arise,” explains Walters. “Wi-Fi 6E is an improvement because it opens up the 6 GHz frequency band, which is a mostly clean environment, so users won’t have to compete with other devices. Private LTE or private 5G may also be a good option because they have dedicated spectrum and greater maximum data capacity than traditional Wi-Fi, even though they cost more to deploy because they need specialized equipment and implementation expertise.”

About the Author

Jim Montague | Executive Editor

Jim Montague is executive editor of Control. 

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