Combining network control and energy management for power-critical infrastructure

Managing a power-critical infrastructure asset can be challenging, especially when energy management and a reduced carbon footprint also need to be considered. Typically, such a set-up would require the implementation of two separate systems: a Network Control System (NCS) to ensure reliable power supply is maintained during mains power failure and an Energy Management System (EMS). Having separate systems reduces functionality and increases costs, however these challenges can be overcome by considering an integrated solution.

Combining network control and energy management for power-critical infrastructure

Keeping the power running

An NCS is responsible for detecting power failures in the network and ensuring the backup power system responds promptly to provide standby power until normal supply is restored. It does this by interfacing with the backup system, such as generators, to the mains power supply of a particular system via the associated switches/circuit breakers. This is particularly important in power-critical buildings or facilities such as hospitals and airports where an uninterrupted power source is required 24/7 to keep operations running and ensure the safety and wellbeing of occupants. As well as ensuring reliable power supply, an NCS is also crucial for providing load shedding and low/high voltage automated switching capabilities.

Once an NCS has been installed, the potential for human operation errors is decreased and when integrated with an EMS, the overall energy consumption of the building or facility can be monitored and in many cases reduced by allowing operators or managers to manage energy usage as required.

Some form of NCS is required in all power-critical buildings or facilities, including:

  • Hospitals
  • Airports
  • Water/wastewater treatment plants
  • Banks
  • Data centres
  • Manufacturing plants
  • Sports stadiums
  • Commercial office towers
  • Universities
  • Transport hubs
  • Research facilities
  • Refineries

Each of these buildings and facilities has different requirements so there is no one standard NCS solution; it is important to engage an experienced engineering company, such as Automation IT, that has extensive experience designing and commissioning fully customised NCS systems for a diverse range of clients and applications.

An integrated solution

Schneider Electric provides fully-featured and integrated NCS and EMS software packages which can provide building and facility managers a high level of functionality while reducing costs by eliminating the need to install and interface separate systems.

Schneider Electrics’ Power SCADA Operation (PSO) is designed to monitor high voltage and low voltage systems, and is managed by a building or facility’s engineering and/or operations team. PSO can interface with generators to provide load shedding as well as perform fast, automatic fault isolation and power restoration to avoid power outages.

PSO complies with energy efficiency and green building standards, power quality standards, backup power system testing standards and global cyber security standards.

Power Monitoring Expert (PME) is used primarily to monitor utility usage (electricity, gas, water, etc.), power quality and provides a visual display of energy usage and various power quality parameters depending on the connected devices/meters. PME gives building and facility managers access to real-time monitoring, data, alarming and power quality analysis to monitor conditions that could lead to equipment failure and downtime. It also provides energy analytics tools to manage energy efficiency.

PME is also compliant with power quality and energy standards, including IEC/IEEE and ISO 50001. A key feature of PME is that it has application specific solutions which are pre-engineered and customised for buildings and facilities such as data centres and healthcare.

Due to the design of PME and PSO, a single system can be developed to include both projects in a seamless solution.

Automation IT is a Schneider Electric Critical Power EcoXpert System Integrator, and has installed and integrated PME and PSO solutions on a wide range of projects. On such projects, PSO has been installed as the main system with integrated PME as ‘Advanced Reports’, providing the dashboard interface for managers to monitor data and even display energy usage information in public areas.

Taking into consideration different requirements

An NCS is crucial for all power-critical buildings and facilities as downtime can cause a range of consequences, from business interruption and financial loss to damage to an organisation's reputation or even risk to life.


Combining network control and energy management for power-critical infrastructure

Having uninterrupted power 24/7 is critical for many operations in hospitals as it can affect surgery and life support systems; even a few seconds without power can lead to death of patients. It is also important for hospitals to keep the environmental control system operating so all staff, patients and visitors not only remain comfortable, but also ensures temperature dependent areas — such as where critically injured and isolated patients are monitored — are maintained within the specified limits. Having constant temperature and humidity minimises the risk of infection, viruses, bacteria and vaccine resistant superbugs.

Hospitals are under increasing cost reduction pressures while having to maintain compliance with strict operating regulations, they also have to invest in new medical technologies which 99 per cent of the time are power dependent. A combined PME and PSO system provides the mechanism to ensure there is no downtime when a power outage occurs and provides facility managers with real-time, accurate system-wide data so they can make informed decisions in a timely manner.

Data centres

Combining network control and energy management for power-critical infrastructure

Data centres are used to store large amounts of data that is critical to the daily operations of entities such as banking operations, private and public organisations, governments, social media businesses, infrastructure, power and water utilities, transportation, defence etc. The security and reliability of these data centres is paramount, ensuring there is continuous power is critical to the protection of data.

Data centres consume large amounts of power and they need to operate 24/7, Schneider Electric estimates that 50 per cent of a data centre’s operating budget goes towards electricity. Power failure and downtime can lead to large financial losses not to mention the potential to irretrievably lose masses of business and personal data. Schneider Electric has estimated financial losses in the realm of $1 million on average if there is a one-hour power loss event, considering the amount of data stored and the exponential increase in data being captured, this figure would at best be very conservative. There is also the reputation of the business overseeing the data centre operations and management; any sustained power failure at even one site could easily cause the business to collapse.

Sports stadiums

Combining network control and energy management for power-critical infrastructure

Sports stadiums are unique in that power demands vary greatly from when it is not in use to when events are being held. During night events, the power required for the stadium include lighting, TV cameras, video screens, sound systems, kitchens and other facilities. If there is a blackout and power is not instantly restored, the financial losses could be substantial to the stadium operators. Any delay can not only cause inconvenience and potential safety issues for those at the stadium, it can also cause disruption to the sometimes vast global audiences viewing from all parts of the world. Having a robust NCS is crucial to ensuring that the system can accommodate varying power demands and that power is instantaneously restored if there is an issue with the main power supply.

Sports stadiums, although generally very energy hungry, are also aware of their carbon footprint, so having an NCS that can be integrated with an EMS can assist the stadium operators to take back an element of control over their power usage, they can also much more easily meet and in many cases exceed their environmental and sustainability targets.


Combining network control and energy management for power-critical infrastructure

The power requirements for buildings are as different as the building themselves, a lot of which depends on how old the buildings are, their orientation to the sun, what geographical region they are located, even the number of windows and shape/colour of external cladding can have a profound effect on how much energy a building consumes. Banks, shopping centres, malls, casinos, art centres, high rise apartments, hotels etc., all have different requirements when it comes to energy management.

Energy management is key to reducing energy consumption and overall operation costs, while also maintaining a high level of comfort for occupants and without disrupting daily operations. Environmental ratings such as Green Star and NABERS also becomes a consideration, as many building operators and managers have to endure higher costs for less energy efficient buildings. Those that meet or exceed the specified energy ratings can also benefit by promoting their building as having a lower carbon footprint while maximising their appeal for environmentally conscious tenants.


Combining network control and energy management for power-critical infrastructure

Critical infrastructure such as airports, prisons, rail and ports are complex and rely on continuous, reliable power supply to keep operations running and ensure the safety of the people using and working in the facilities. A loss of power at these facilities can cause a loss of revenue as well as be disruptive to passengers due to the loss of vital services. A loss of power at an airport can affect air traffic control, runway lights, baggage handling systems and building management facilities. Power loss at a prison can risk the safety of staff, inmates, visitors or any contractors on site.

The need for an experienced engineering partner

Due to the complex nature of the infrastructure, operating systems and associated reporting requirements, the design, build, installation and integration of an NCS and EMS system must be well considered prior to undertaking and works or engaging a particular company. Some initial questions to ask should include; Does the company have relevant experience? Are they quality assurance certified? Do they have up to date and relevant insurance protection? In Queensland, do they have Registered Professional Engineers (RPEQ) to oversee the engineering process, as required by Queensland law? Do they have 24/7 support capabilities?

Selecting an engineering company experienced in all facets of NCS and EMS design and integration is imperative to ensuring all project requirements will be met. This will also ensure the system and backup support will be reliable, energy usage and associated costs will be reduced, occupants will be comfortable and safe, and most importantly, power will be available 24/7.