Advanced Control Systems™ (ACS™) employees, for the last 40 years, have started each day thinking about the needs of their electric power customers. For the last several years, the electric industry has been and is in transition. Along with increasing competitiveness, extreme weather conditions, system security and resiliency requirements, ACS provides utilities with real-time, on-time solutions with leading edge technology for the modern grid.
“We believe at ACS that energy is foundational to our civilization and our utility customers trust us as the go-to real-time energy management solution provider of innovative products and services,” CEO Kevin Sullivan says. “Within energy providers, the control center is the brain allowing utilities intelligent control to increase customer satisfaction, improve reliability with outage restoration while meeting demand with asset optimization.” Sullivan says utilities today ask for an ACS roadmap to help them with safety and reliability, as well as improving communications with consumers. He is a problem solver as he answers questions on how ACS technology can deliver as demand requires, how to help consumers make choices and how utilities can minimize negative impacts while optimizing service and power flow. Utilities trust ACS as a leading manufacturer of advanced automation technology to the global electric power industry, focusing on control center solutions which include supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), advanced distribution management (ADMS), outage management (OMS), energy management (EMS), network simulation and optimization, network display strategies and ergonomic design.
“All of civilization needs electricity and ACS creates the real-time control centers and solutions needed to provide uninterrupted power. We provide the most advanced real-time control systems to organizations who are in the business of delivering energy,” says Sullivan. “ACS automation product lines include a wide range of flexible and cost-effective substation, distribution, and feeder automation solutions to accelerate energy management by capturing and leveraging data analytics for best practices implementation.”
The company started making supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems and system components for electric, gas and water utilities since its founding in 1975. Sullivan, who took over as CEO this past April says ACS is moving forward, with a singular focus on its strengths. “We’re taking a much more market-focused approach,” Sullivan says of ACS today. “For 40 years we have been known to a limited set of utilities and are somewhat of a secret in the general energy industry. Today, we are taking our secrets out of the box and letting everyone know about Precision Real-time Information System Management (PRISM™) and advanced controls from ACS.”
ACS in headquartered in Norcross, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta, but also has offices in El Salvador and Taiwan. For much of the planet, blackouts and brownouts remain a major concern, and ACS systems specialize in balancing supply and demand as generation and load become more variable, coupled with a unique grid restoration technology to reduce outage times. “Our focus has really been to get our advanced technology out to our public and privately held utility customers,” Sullivan says. “We team-up with customers to execute their vision while we deliver quality, innovative Advanced Distribution Management Systems (DMS), Outage Management Systems (OMS), bulk high voltage Energy Management Systems (EMS), Remote Terminal Units (RTU), Substation Automation, Feeder Automation, based on an advanced real-time SCADA.”
Building the Smart Grid
Many of today’s electrical grids were built decades ago and as a result are based on older technology. These systems have aged and are now being upgraded to use digital microprocessor based monitoring and control. This is a transition that requires advanced communication infrastructure and extreme makeovers of the central control room. The RTUs that act as sensors on the grid, measuring things such as voltage and current, are one such technology. Older RTUs were designed based on the use of electrolytic capacitors that have a shelf life, leading to concerns throughout the industry that older RTUs will begin to fail. To modernize this sensor technology, ACS has developed a new version of the RTU based on microprocessor technology that fits into the older model’s casing, allowing for easy installation. Keeping the sensor equipment up to date is important for SCADA systems, which act as the backbone of today’s energy management systems, Sullivan explains.
Everything ACS manufacturers revolves around the control of energy in real-time to help the industrial and commercial industries manage energy inside facilities and utilities to ensure the quality of supply to the consumers. Georgia Power has deployed ACS’s Centrix™ Feeder Automation system to lessen the impact of outages by shorting restoration times during severe weather or equipment failure. Cobb EMC, one of the nation’s largest co-operatives, uses ACS innovation for fault detection isolation and restoration (FDIR) to minimize outages and automatically re-route power to get customers back online. Through PRISM, utilities can read data from the substations, automatically determine the proper reaction and send commands back to the system, meaning energy is more quickly and efficiently redirected around problem areas to diminish downtime.
ACS has installed more than 500 PRISM systems worldwide and continues to add new features that help utilities respond to emergencies. Using PRISM, clients can tap into smart grid technologies such as smart meters to isolate local outages, pinpoint locations and determine the root cause. Having quick access to such detailed information enables utilities to efficiently dispatch crews and conduct a triage of the outage to prioritize repairs. Mobile apps even allow crews in the field to view a map overlay of the electrical grid to see all the assets on the grid and fault locations. “We make sure that in real-time, energy crews know exactly where they need to go,” Sullivan says.
Once they know where repairs are needed, crews can take and upload photographs, update the central control room and set expected restoration times all from the field. Those capabilities are all derived from ACS’s understanding that a central brain can no longer manage an emergency on its own, Sullivan says. As the country saw during Hurricane Sandy, the control room personnel are often unable to see the realities of a situation on the ground and are at risk of making poor decisions. “By distributing the intelligence to the field, we have the field units optimize themselves,” Sullivan says.
The strength of such integrated mapping technology is the ability to visualize power grid data in real time, but it has attracted interest from new types of clients, as well. Sullivan recently visited the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to discuss how PRISM is helping the agency manage the energy necessary to operate its underground rail, trolley and streetcar systems, all of which run on electricity.
PRISM data could soon find its way into the average person’s hand, too. ACS invests about $3 million each year into product development and Sullivan says much of that is going towards extending the reach of central control rooms with mobile applications that the utility can make available to the end-users of electricity. The prevalence of smart phones in the population has created an opportunity for utilities to collect accurate near-real-time data from customers on where outages are occurring and potential causes.
Through the mobile apps developed by ACS, customers can take pictures of downed power lines or write messages about what they noticed just prior to an outage and send that data directly to their electricity provider, where it will be added to the PRISM knowledge accessible by crews in the field. The apps will also keep customers updated on the three key questions during a blackout: am I alone, is someone working on it and when will the power be back on? “Our application will answer all three of those things immediately,” Sullivan says, “but also enable a utility to ask [customers], ‘What else do you know?’”
The Industry’s Future Is Here
“This is an industry that, for many years, has been delivering a commodity at the speed of light that was totally invisible, but at the same time has no direct end-use [without conversion],” Sullivan says. People use electricity nearly every moment of their lives, but they don’t physically interact with it, and they don’t consider the impact on the grid when they power their cell phone. Customers may grumble when their power bill comes every 60 days, but the rest of the time they aren’t thinking about how to cut consumption. Sullivan believes that customer behavior must change or many grids risk curtailing service and more frequent outages.
With today’s technology, Sullivan says it is finally possible to alter how everyday people think about energy and how they can be part of the “social energy” evolution taking place.