New York Power Authority, data collection
A view from the integrated smart operations center (iSOC) at NYPA’s headquarters.

The Future is Digital for New York Power Authority

New York Power Authority deploys an extensive sensor network to become the first all-digital utility in North America.

For utility system operators, there is no such thing as too much information. Costly equipment failures can still happen even with regular inspections and scheduled maintenance. However, for New York Power Authority (NYPA), that soon could become a thing of the past. The solution lies in the data—lots of it!

NYPA is installing sensors on equipment such as transformers, reactors, turbines, generators, breakers, battery banks and capacitors. By networking the information from these sensors to the utility’s new integrated smart operations center (iSOC), equipment health data will be available instantaneously.

Through a combination of predictive analytics software and cutting-edge sensors, iSOC engineers can monitor thousands of data points simultaneously in real time. Not only can that data reveal valuable insights into the performance of generation and transmission assets, it enables them to gauge the life expectancy of equipment based on current use, which might differ from manufacturer specifications. The result: Operations are more efficient and reliable with the prevention of costly equipment failures.

The Paradigm Shift

The largest state-owned utility in the U.S., NYPA has decided its future is in the digital realm. As part of this paradigm-shifting move, NYPA has begun deploying sensors to monitor power plants, substations and, eventually, power lines to increase efficiency and productivity. By the end of 2019, NYPA expects to have more than 100,000 data points connected to the iSOC at its White Plains, New York, headquarters, a monitoring and diagnostic hub for NYPA’s assets.

The stakes are high. NYPA has a network of 16 generating facilities and 1400 circuit-miles (2253 km) of transmission lines. The utility owns about one-third of the state’s high-voltage transmission lines—including New York’s only 765-kV line—and, on a given day, could be supplying as much as 20% of the state’s electricity.

The iSOC essentially serves as a copilot for the plants. Assets are being monitored constantly. iSOC engineers, and eventually any NYPA employee with the proper clearances, can access this information from a smartphone and initiate a rapid response to any issues, large or small. Having this capability is something no plant operator ever would take for granted.

Since opening in December 2017, iSOC has been visited by hundreds of utility professionals, dignitaries and elected officials, including New York Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul.

Predictive Analytics

Information acquired by the sensors and data points enables NYPA to notice trends in how equipment operates. It is a crucial component of the predictive analytics the utility performs using asset performance management (APM) software on the Predix platform from GE Digital. It enables iSOC managers to have data in a central location and perform analytics that give an indication of a potential problem down the road with equipment such as a breaker or transformer.

Without this software running on an enterprise-wide platform, investigating the root cause of an equipment failure would require manually interrogating multiple disparate data systems, some local at the equipment and others in central control rooms—but none located at NYPA’s engineering headquarters in White Plains. Now, a centralized data system provides all the trending analysis within minutes.

This data enables NYPA engineers to undertake the utility’s version of separating the wheat from the chaff. Based on operating parameters established by NYPA and equipment manufacturers, the iSOC may receive about 100 advisories a day about potential service issues. Most are inconsequential, at best. Perhaps two or three are forwarded for further examination. With the trending data, an engineer can determine what caused an alarm, what it means and how it should be addressed. If there are too many false positives, the software can be reconfigured so an alarm is not triggered by a particular data set.

To be sure, while the intent is to become more reliant on the software, the human factor will remain. The expectation is more than 99% of the time Predix and its accompanying software will be accurate. For the exceptions, an experienced operator is still on hand to evaluate the issue. However, the speed and overall precision of the software makes the task much easier and provides greater assurance of the data’s reliability.

Operator at iSOC monitors data from NYPA plants that is being fed by a network of sensors on key assets. NYPA expects to gather information from more than 100,000 data points on transmission and generation assets that easily can be monitored from iSOC.

Maintenance Schedules

Predictive analytics also offer an opportunity for more sophisticated outage schedules. If the data indicates all is well, then there is no need to follow a manufacturer’s replacement or maintenance plan, which might be calendar based. Conversely, if the data points to something going wrong, then maintenance should take place prior to the next scheduled service interval. In extreme circumstances, the equipment can be shut down immediately to avoid a catastrophic failure. Fortunately, most assets have proven to be more reliable. In some instances, it is possible a piece of equipment or part might not fail for another five years or 10 years. By trending the data, an outage can be planned with more precision.

Using APM, NYPA has created digital twins of its assets that employ both historical and real-time data. For a more precise focus on transmission assets, NYPA will launch an APM initiative using software from GE Power that tracks the overall health of transmission assets. The goal is to deploy a digital solution that integrates the data from generation assets to enable the most informed decisions about maintenance as well as when and where to make new investments in grid modernization. NYPA will use these analytic tools enterprise wide, as it moves closer toward becoming the first end-to-end digital utility in North America.

Already, sensor data has helped the utility to avoid an unscheduled outage of a significant generation resource. In January 2018, iSOC generated an advisory that led operators at the Lewiston Pump generating plant, part of the Niagara power project, to find a thrust-bearing cooling water flow at one unit was tracking at 37 gpm to 41 gpm (140 lpm to 155 lpm), or about 19 gpm to 22 gpm (72 lpm to 83 lpm) higher than needed to provide adequate cooling given operating conditions. Thus, the cooling water flow was almost twice the norm.

These conditions were confirmed by a trending analysis provided by the iSOC software. An investigation revealed the calibration on the cooling water flow transmitter had drifted. Adequate cooling water flow is needed to prevent damage to the unit’s thrust bearing. Had the calibration issue not been revealed, it could have damaged machinery and led to expensive and extensive repairs.

Reforming the Energy Vision

These are tools that will optimize NYPA’s assets and provide a path to become nimble in responding to demands on the state’s grid. It also enables NYPA to answer the challenge set forth by New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo in his Reforming the Energy Vision strategy, which has redefined the paradigms for how New York utilities operate. The aim is to create an energy system that is more efficient, resilient and affordable for all New Yorkers.

Gov. Cuomo also has advanced a Clean Energy Standard, which requires that half of all electricity consumed in New York come from renewable sources by 2030. That is important for NYPA given its three largest hydroelectric plants and privately owned wind generation facilities connect nearly 7000 MW of power to the state grid.

NYPA President and CEO Gil Quiniones has likened this approach to a “constant MRI” on the utility’s assets. It is an approach that not only has operational benefits but cost savings, as well. Just by analyzing trends, NYPA has saved more than US$5 million in emergent maintenance costs. And that is just by looking at data. NYPA is no longer just talking about the digital future; it is already here!

SIDEBAR: Integrated Smart Operations Center

The New York Power Authority (NYPA) is intent on becoming the first end-to-end digital utility in North America. This move is more than about being first. Rather, it enables the largest state-owned utility in the United States to fulfill its mission to “power the economic growth and competitiveness of New York state by providing customers with low-cost, clean, reliable power and the innovative energy infrastructure and services they value.”

This mission is becoming more challenging as the energy marketplace becomes more competitive and customers have more choices about how to fulfill their energy needs. Going digital is a solution that is at once, pragmatic, cost-effective and efficient. Leading the way toward a new operational structure at NYPA is its integrated smart operations center (iSOC) at the utility’s White Plains, New York, U.S., headquarters, about 20 miles (32 km) north of New York City.

iSOC opened in December 2017 and uses predictive analytics software from GE to forecast and avoid equipment failures and significant outages at NYPA’s 16 power plants and more than 1400 circuit-miles (2253 km) of transmission lines. That gives NYPA more flexibility in scheduling repairs, reduced operating risk and lower maintenance costs. This, in turn, enables NYPA customers to potentially realize additional savings.

Initially, NYPA is using GE software to monitor several aspects of its generation and transmission operations. In time, the overall iSOC platform will be expanded to integrate emergency operations, cybersecurity, physical security, network operations and information technology using data analytics. iSOC enables NYPA to create digital twins of its assets to represent how they perform.

By using data from existing control systems as well as an array of newly installed sensors and smart analyzers, data on asset performance is acquired quickly, so engineers can ascertain how an asset is performing compared to its normal parameters.

The sleek 25,000-sq ft (2323-sq m) facility, complete with a wall of state-of-the-art video monitors 9 ft high by 80 ft wide (2.7 m by 24 m), also is home to two other cornerstones that have helped NYPA to cement its reputation as a leading innovator in the public power sector.

First, the New York Energy Manager (NYEM) provides public and private facility operators with timely data on energy use. By delivering relevant and visually accessible information, NYEM helps to improve building energy performance, reduce environmental impact and lower energy bills.

Also present is the Advanced Grid Innovation Laboratory for Energy, which uses big data analytics to simulate, develop and deploy the next-generation electric grid. The lab capabilities include simulating advanced transmission applications—to test the impacts of such assets as distributed energy resources (solar, wind, combined heat and power)—electric vehicles and energy storage that all will help to reimagine the electric grid.

The lab also focuses on testing and modeling automated systems for more reliable deployment, developing algorithms for maximizing sensor data and analyzing the impact of cyber incidents on the grid.

Creating an all-digital utility hardly represents the end of what New York Power Authority can do. iSOC data management systems were conceived with the overarching concept of scalability because there always will be more sensors to add, more assets and buildings to monitor and a constant flow of research to be performed to make the grid more efficient and responsive.
In other words, for NYPA, going end to end is just the beginning.


Kenneth Kristensen, PE ([email protected]) is a senior project engineer for the New York Power Authority’s Project Management Division. He is the program coordinator for NYPA’s Sensor Deployment Program and has been with NYPA for over 11 years managing various large projects and program efforts for the Operations Division and Energy Efficiency Division of NYPA. He is a New York State professional engineer and holds a DBIA design-build certification. Prior to NYPA, Ken held various roles in project management and engineering in the consulting engineering field.

Ahad Esmaeilian ([email protected]) joined the Department of Technology & Innovation at the New York Power Authority (NYPA) in 2017. His areas of expertise are smart grid generation and transmission as well as application of artificial intelligence in power systems. As the smart grid engineer, he is responsible for finding, evaluating and implementing innovative technologies to support NYPA’s digital vision of becoming the first end-to-end digital utility.

Anil James ([email protected]) is a senior electrical engineer for the New York Power Authority and serves as the lead engineer on the utility’s sensor deployment project. He is a licensed professional engineer in the state of New York and holds LEED Associated Professional (AP), Envision Sustainability Professional (ENV SP) and DBIA design-build certifications. He has more than 10 years of design and construction experience working on a broad portfolio of projects, including utility, transit, water/wastewater treatment and manufacturing facilities.

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