By: Allan Evora
Owners and operators need simple visualization and control of each landfill gas process from a single location.
A lot of waste to energy owners misunderstand Supervisory Controls and Data Acquisition (SCADA). They think, “Why would I need an overarching controls system when I’ve already got Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC) controlling each piece of my equipment? Wouldn’t I just be overcomplicating an already-complicated system?”
In fact, SCADA waste to energy technology helps simplify complex systems and makes the lives of owners and operators much easier.
The Islands of Automation Problem
A typical landfill gas plant has multiple subsystems. In many cases, you’ve got:
- Moisture removal
- Gas cleansing (Siloxane removal)
- SCR (Selective Catalytic Reduction)
- Environmental controls
- Electrical switchgear
Each likely has its own controls, and each handles reporting and alarming in its own native format. Similar to challenges manufacturing had in the 80’s and 90’s, you can’t effectively manage your process if you have to work with disparate systems.
Effectively, you’re working with islands of automation. Each piece of equipment functions great by itself and has the necessary automation equipment to get the job done…but communicating with or understanding what’s going on with the system as a whole is nearly impossible.
It gets even worse if something goes wrong in the system. Instead of staying cool and collected during a crisis, alarms around the plant turn operators into firefighters, jumping from one system to the next, assuming they’re spending time in the right place and hoping worse complications aren’t happening at the system around the corner.
Solving Islands of Automation with SCADA Waste to Energy Technology
With the evolution of smart home technology, homeowners have the option of adding a security system, smart lights, and smart thermostats. Each has its own interactive control panel, whether physical or in an app.
The problem comes when you want to easily coordinate turning on the lights, turning down the thermostat, and turning on the security system as you leave your house. How could you without individually touching each system? An overarching, central system could help you coordinate all your smart technology, and you’d be able to see the status of each all in one place.
Similarly, with smart instrumentation or application specific controls, we can tie many pieces of waste to energy technology and equipment into one system: a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition System, or SCADA.
Instead of running laps around the plant to check on each individual control, SCADA gives operators a single pane of glass to look through. Through a Human Machine Interface (HMI) screen, it provides real-time status updates, alarms, trends, notifications, and reports on each bit of machinery.
Not only does it give you an analysis of the overall plant on one easy-to-understand screen, it also provides control of each individual process from a single location in your plant.
SCADA is multi-faceted. When designed properly, it helps owners and operators:
- Efficiently see/analyze their whole plant
- Effectively operate and maintain their equipment
- Respond to abnormal conditions faster
- Drive operational efficiency through trending and KPI analysis
- Send operation reports to key personnel
- Remotely control or monitor operations
- Receive fault and alarm notifications via email or text
Ultimately, SCADA makes each interaction with your landfill gas system more productive.
Why Doesn’t Landfill Gas Specify Waste to Energy Technology Like SCADA More Often?
Some owners are content with having multiple systems because of their experience in other facilities.
“I’ve run plenty of plants without SCADA.”
You may be very proficient at running multiple systems, but how well are you trained on each of them? How well are your operators trained? Wouldn’t it be more efficient to just train and be proficient in one system?
How do you receive alarms working without SCADA? Most owners with multiple systems only receive them in one way: via email, pager, or online. Often, alarms from each device come in different formats from other device alarms, depending on how the system was configured. Wouldn’t it be nice to receive alarms in any method you wanted? And in the same, consistent format?
What about remote access? What if you had access into what was happening with the equipment at 3 in the morning from the comfort of your bed? Many landfill gas sites with SCADA systems have done away with late-night shifts because they can just as easily be notified of alarms on their phone in the middle of the night, and remotely log into the system to assess the situation.
Sure, it’s possible to run a landfill gas plant with multiple systems, but is that the most efficient way possible? Are you wasting man-hours? Are you paying for more operators than you need to? Are you making it more complicated than it needs to be?
Case Study: Concord Energy Landfill Gas
Republic Services’ Charlotte Motor Speedway landfill in Concord, NC produces 11.5 MW and services 7,700 NC residences. The landfill gas from this site fuels two Solar Taurus turbines, and is an extremely complex system with 22 different devices made by 12 different manufacturers, including:
- Gas turbine generators
- Gas compressors
- Gas blowers
- Air coolers
- Glycol chillers
- Blow-off flare
Each one outputs critical data in totally separate packages. Because operators worked with multiple manufacturers, they had a difficult time determining exactly what was happening at the plant.
The landfill contracted with Affinity Energy, who designed and implemented a waste to energy SCADA control system tying all 22 waste to energy devices together. The goal? Make it easier for operators to monitor plant operations.
After just one month of integration, operators can now monitor their landfill gas plant with a single HMI. Now they have:
- Advanced visualization capabilities
- Central location display and consolidated reporting
- The ability to remotely start and stop turbines/generators
- Archived data to use when troubleshooting problems
Why Is SCADA Important To An Owner?
SCADA is not just a master alarming tool. It’s an information system that helps owners and operators be calm, cool, and collected…even on Easter, Christmas, and Independence Day.
The ultimate goal of SCADA is to help:
- Decrease wear and tear
- Increase run hours
- Increase energy produced
A system integrator (like Affinity Energy) can easily take points, incorporate graphics, trend, and report key performance indicators in any landfill gas system to help owners and operators take control of their plant again.
Get a no obligation SCADA consultation to see if this waste to energy technology is right for your organization.
Throughout his career, Allan has demonstrated his passion for providing solutions. In 1990, he developed FIRST (Fast InfraRed Signature Technique), a preliminary design software tool used to rapidly assess rotary craft infrared signatures. In 2008, Allan was the driving force behind the development of Affinity Energy's Utilitrend; a commercially available, cloud-based utility resource trending, tracking, and reporting software.
Allan has been instrumental on large scale integration projects for utilities, universities, airports, financial institutions, medical campus utility plants, and manufacturing corporations, and has worked with SCADA systems since the early ‘90s. A passion for data acquisition, specialty networks, and custom software drives him to incorporate openness, simplicity, and integrity into every design in which he is involved.