Automation SCADA

SCADA Implementation Simplified

EP Editorial Staff | July 1, 2021

Web-based Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition solutions deliver a new level of simplicity in installation, configuration, and usability.

Utilities of all sizes face the challenge of efficiently monitoring real-time substation performance across their networks. Each substation is a data-rich environment with hundreds of nodes continuously sending information to a master station. Advancements in web-based SCADA systems are transforming the process of installing, configuring, and managing a system to monitor and manage substation performance.

Legacy SCADA solutions which, for decades, were standalone systems with their own communication protocols, have typically required time-consuming installations to connect to all endpoints and could be difficult to maintain. Technicians accessed and viewed data through increasingly obsolete DOS-based screens lacking intuitive and easily configurable user interfaces.

“Our legacy SCADA required two people to spend a week just to get a single device communicating with it, so adding RTUs to our 27-substation network was always an issue,” said Bobby Williams, Vice President of engineering at Southwest Electric Cooperative, a utility founded in 1939 to serve rural communities in 11 counties across southwest Missouri. “When our former SCADA vendor told us that they were going out of business, we wanted to replace it with a modern web-based system that would streamline installation and maintenance and give our engineers a modern user interface that they could easily configure,” Williams explained.

A key advantage of web-based SCADA systems is the use of standard web-based protocols to securely communicate between RTU endpoints and a central monitoring terminal and for operators to view and interact with web pages.

Engineering simplicity

A key advantage of web-based SCADA systems is use of standard web-based protocols to securely communicate between RTU endpoints and a central monitoring terminal and for operators to view and interact with web pages. Southwest Electric Cooperative chose a SCADA from Lenexa, KS-based Orion Utility Automation, a division of substation automation-solution provider NovaTech Automation, Quakertown, PA (

“With our new SCADA, we are able to take a device that we never used before, connect it, and have it communicating to every intelligent electronic device [IED] we had in the field within a day. This was simply huge for us,” said Williams.

The topology of a web-based SCADA system is configured as either a centralized or distributed model.  “We opted for a distributed topology with a single Orion master station that talks to all of our substations,” said Williams. “At each substation we have an Orion LX or LXm terminal.”

Mapping the topology often falls to the utility. It can be time-consuming to identify locations and associated data values that need to be brought back to the master terminal. “Digital mapping for devices was built into our new SCADA,” stated Williams. “It was just a matter of selecting the IEDs we had in the substation, entering some values, and it was up and running.”

User interfaces

A web-based SCADA system allows an engineer to open multiple browsers to have graphical interfaces for the different substations and key remote-monitoring features on different tabs, making it easier to monitor a network. Multiple users can be logged in simultaneously.

NovaTech provides a library of more than 500 pre-engineered “points pick lists” for the commonly applied substation IEDs from Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, Eaton Cooper, GE, ABB, Beckwith, Basler, and others. This is helpful for smaller utilities where engineers may operate as both relay and substation engineers.

“As a small co-op, our engineers wear many hats,” explained Williams. “We needed a solution that would be easy to install, use, program, and manipulate in order to gather the data that we need to manage our network.”

One of the big advantages is configurability. Modern web-based GUIs can be easily configured so that faceplates match what they look like in the field on the screen. Further, the configurations use unlicensed software to make the changes, which reduces costs. NovaTech integrates an XML protocol to transfer data into custom webpages. Inkscape plug-ins are included to simplify point selection for graphics libraries and to create additional interfaces that are not pre-packaged.

“Using Inkscape, our team can create a template, then plug the numbers and the functions into it,” said Victor Buehler, Vice President of IT at Southwest Electric. “We did not initially plan on tying in near points to the SCADA system, but we have since been able to easily add them after installation.”

Integrated into modern GUIs are built-in alarm annunciators and email notifications when thresholds are exceeded. NovaTech stores alarms, tags, SOE points, and files in a non-volatile expanded memory within an open object-relational database-management system.

“Emails are automatically sent to us for breaker operations, undervoltage situations, things of that nature,” said Buehler. “We can have a notification based on a change or a set point for essentially any data we are bringing in. This ensures we’re aware of issues before they become a bigger issue.” According to Buehler, he was able to reproduce, create new substations, and dive into customizations for viewing data without having worked with a NovaTech product.

NovaTech provides a library of more than 500 pre-engineered “points pick lists” for the commonly applied substation IEDs. This is particularly helpful for smaller utilities where engineers may operate as both relay and substation engineers.

Maintenance, security

The elimination of annual ongoing licensing fees and the need to rely on the SCADA vendor for installation and maintenance was a major cost savings. “We were paying tens of thousands of dollars a year in ongoing costs to maintain our legacy SCADA,” said Williams. “Software licensing was a major part of this expense.”

Security is also a key consideration for utilities that typically need to be compliant with North American Electric Reliability Corporation Critical Infrastructure Protection (NERC CIP) regulations. Today’s web-based SCADA solutions include strong passwords, user privileges, a stateful firewall, key cryptography, and security logging. An HTTPS protocol adds SSL-based security.

“We run our SCADA system over a cellular VPN connection,” explained Williams. “Having this data from the endpoints to the master station encrypted is a big deal for us to maximize security. With the Orion system, it came encrypted out of the box.”

“A SCADA system really does not have an end,” said Williams. “By its nature it is an ongoing modular effort that requires enhancements and upgrades in lockstep with the substation technology and performance. What’s key for a utility considering replacing their SCADA system is to have an overall guiding strategy that will factor in ease of use, cost, scalability, redundancy, security, regulatory compliance, and after-sale support to simplify what traditionally has been a very complicated, time-consuming process.” EP

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