Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electric Association (W-H, Rockford, Minnesota, U.S.) has a natural affinity for monitoring systems. In 1989, it launched W-H Security, which provides home security monitoring services to more than 23,000 customers in 22 states and three Canadian provinces. W-H is experiencing rapid growth for electric service in the Minneapolis-area suburban area. This growth presented operational challenges, which led W-H to test a security monitoring system in a rural substation.

W-H investigated traditional video surveillance systems, including closed circuit television (CCTV) systems that required centralized monitoring or on-site VCRs to record events. CCTV's major disadvantages are that it is a closed communications system, it is intended for limited viewing in one monitoring location, and it requires a substantial investment in equipment, cabling and computer software.

W-H compared the available CCTV systems to ScadaCam, a new product from the MiniMax Corp. (Eagan, Minnesota), which was available as a demonstration. The system transmits video data via the corporate network and allows multiple users using Web browsers to view the data in real time with event notification.

W-H chose to install a single-camera ScadaCam unit in April 2000 at its 7.5 MVA, 69/12.47-kV Rockford Substation. While W-H was somewhat skeptical of how well the system would perform, its goal was to explore the camera's long-term durability in Minnesota's harsh environment and to determine its effectiveness for security, operations, maintenance and dispatch. After three years of outdoor operation in the wind, snow, ice, rain and temperatures ranging from 100°F to -40°F (38°C to -40°C), the same camera is still in daily operation at the site.

Substation Installation

The installation at Rockford Substation involved mounting a single camera where it would provide the greatest possible visual substation coverage. At this site, the camera is in the northeast corner of the substation mounted on a standoff bracket attached to a fence corner post.

The ScadaCam system is comprised of a camera wired to a ScadaCam On-site Data Controller (SODC). The SODC processes requests from remote Web browsers, controls camera movement, digitally stores images, video and data, runs preprogrammed scans, accepts external inputs and handles all of the systems TCP/IP communications.

Initially, the camera was tied into W-H's internal intranet through an existing frame-relay connection in the substation. Although the 128-KBps connection provided adequate bandwidth for both data and camera operations, it was expensive to operate. Therefore, W-H and MiniMax designed and installed a 2.4 MHz high-speed wireless Ethernet connection between the substation and the communications tower at headquarters. This connection was less expensive and faster than the frame-relay circuit and also proved to be more reliable. The utility now uses this wireless connection for both camera operation and SCADA communications.

ScadaCam Features

The ScadaCam system features include the ability to immediately view the facilities from any computer, provided the user has the proper login and password, and to see streaming video or high-quality still images. The camera can be moved and adjusted directly from the browser via the Internet or the utility's intranet. It also can be used to view specific hot-linked points of interest during and after an event. This saves valuable time during outages, because the cause and the extent can often be determined before a crew is dispatched. The visual inspection features reduce downtime, provide an easy mechanism for certain types of preventative maintenance and decrease the cost of determining the source of a problem.

The camera also can be programmed to perform daily operational and maintenance inspections. The cost of on-site remote facility inspections is not insignificant. ScadaCam provides a method of scheduling “system overviews,” which are collections of predetermined image locations that gather images and packages them into an e-mail or a Web page for viewing. The images can collect inspection information, including bushing liquid levels, oil seepage around equipment, site environmental conditions such as flooding or snow levels, and basics such as gate and door conditions. Reviewing this information on a daily basis identifies potential issues and allows better management of labor and equipment resources.

A Web-based reporting system is helpful when looking at historical activity related to the facilities. Some example data includes access attempts, motion detections and other SCADA-based events that trigger the system. The reporting activity summary functionality allows users to review video and still images collected throughout the day. Each activity can be selected and drilled down for an event detail review. This information can be shared with providers, giving them real-time data on the operational status. The system also has the ability to establish a time-lapse video of a particular image. The ability to visualize over time, high- side bushing liquid levels, oil levels or temperatures is a valuable tool in determining the normal or abnormal facility operation characteristics.

Implementation Information

W-H departments have benefited by using the camera in the following ways:

  • Security standpoint alerts can be sent along with still images or video to dispatch or appropriate personnel.

  • Dispatch personnel can use the ScadaCam to view events and determine the appropriate course of action before sending crews to the substation. This eliminates additional trips to the site by determining the cause and extent of the problem before crews leave the office. The dispatched trucks can bring the appropriate materials to the substation to fix the problem, rather than having to investigate and return for supplies.

  • W-H's operations department benefits from using the camera to view switch positions and visually confirm circuit operations when performing remote-switching programs. This provides an additional level of safety for field crews working on switched lines.

  • Preprogrammed visual inspections assist the W-H maintenance department. The ability to look at substation conditions on a daily or even hourly basis enables maintenance staff to determine if there are problems or potential problems without the need for a site visit.

When used as a security tool, ScadaCam has the ability to interconnect access control systems with motion detectors to zero in on the action. The combined use of door switches, motion detectors, gate switches and perimeter-security devices to detect unwanted access can control things such as audio messages and lights, and alert of any potential unauthorized intrusions. Additionally, an e-mail with the indicators of the activity and the related images and video can be sent to the appropriate personnel. However, if the confidence level of the intrusion is high enough, a text message will be sent using SMS text messaging to the configured users.

To summarize, this system provides a method of alerting the approved or authorized personnel of an activity when it first happens. Immediately following an activity, users can gain access and review historical and current images and video to determine the correct course of action.

The results from the test installation at Rockford Substation proved that one camera provided adequate substation coverage, and dispatch does not need to persistently monitor the system because it is activity-alert driven. The ability to preview alerts reduces responses to false alarms and daily inspections.

Lance Hovland joined Wright-Hennepin (W-H) in 1997 and currently serves as vice president of Energy Distribution. Prior to W-H, he worked on automation and power system projects for Utilities and Commercial customers as a consultant engineer. These projects included SCADA, utility demand-side management programs and plant automation. Hovland presented a paper jointly with Siemens on W-H's SCADA system at the 1998 University of Minnesota MIPSYCON conference.
lhovland@whe.org