Generator Testing System Sets Stage for Smart Grid

Duke University Hospital

The main medical campus of Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C., encompasses 90 buildings on 210 acres. Accreditation from The Joint Commission (TJC), an independent, not-for-profit organization that accredits and certifies more than 19,000 health care organizations in meeting certain performance standards, required monthly load testing of about 50 generators. Load testing also is required by NFPA 70, NFPA 99 and NFPA 110.

Manual testing proved too labor-intensive, time-consuming and costly, so Duke sought to automate its electric apparatus and generators to keep up with its emergency power testing programs. By automating, maintenance technicians would no longer have to manually transfer normal power to emergency, take readings, check fuel levels, operate for a required amount of time (up to an hour) and manually record all the data to review. No longer would precious time be lost by dispatching personnel if an isolated event occurred at a clinic or research facility located miles away.

Duke turned to Indianapolis-based Blue Pillar for its expertise in automated energy asset management systems for distributed energy resources. Drawing from its industrial automation applications background, Blue Pillar was able to develop and implement a deterministic control and distributed assets software system for real-time data monitoring and testing of remote emergency power supply equipment.

Duke University Medical Center Clinic, which comprises six buildings located approximately eight miles from the main campus, was the first to implement the emergency power switch system (EPSS) system, as they wished to minimize the effects of power interruptions they were experiencing from their utility grid.
Each backup power system is equipped with Blue Pillar controllers and RTUs, and uses Kepware KEPServerEX as a communications driver. OPC is used to communicate with existing sensors, exhaust ports, thermocouple units and metering equipment. This allows Duke’s engineers and operations group to remotely turn on/off switches, trigger and record events, and track all the data needed to analyze system interactions, test results and trends, in addition to generator set parameters and kilowatt test results.

Operating over the campus Ethernet, the data collection layer automatically feeds data into its application layer, Avise Enterprise Server. There is also a graphical user interface at a central control station so Duke’s engineers and operations personnel can monitor hundreds of I/O points. These are closely tracked and archived because failure to properly report testing and performance data could jeopardize hundreds of thousands of dollars in Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements.

The system provides alarm notifications, automatically sending emails to alert technicians, as well as fuel monitoring information such as estimated time-to-empty. If operations are out of compliance, Duke’s engineering and operations team can quickly remedy the situation, and put together a plan documenting how the facility will meet all criteria, which is imposed by the JC.

Blue Pillar’s RTU is based on open standards and connects via KEPServerEX to all the various brands of Duke’s generating equipment (Cummins, CAT, Detroit Diesel, John Deer, Allis Chalmers). After an initial six beta systems proved effective, Duke added the EPSS to an installation of multiple CAT generators and ASCO switches with built-in intelligence and a sophisticated paralleling infrastructure. The system manages the multiple generators in parallel, and was configured using a simple data connection between the new equipment and the new, standardized RTUs.

Once the nameplate information had been manually entered, Blue Pillar’s Avise automatically generated a complete electrical schematic diagram for the generator sets. This saved time and helped to get the installation up and running fast.

With the new installation up and running, Duke opted to implement Blue Pillar’s cloud-based Aurora enterprise portal. Providing personnel with secured access through any server without having to navigate a VPN, it gives engineers the ability to access real-time asset information from any device connected on the web. Personnel can now access the data for a fleet that includes 19 generators and 52 transfer switches.

In term of reporting, Duke can generate regulatory compliance reports (including tests, outages and load shed) for all emergency assets through Avise to satisfy TJC, the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA 110) and EPA reporting for operation of diesel-powered generators. A key benefit is that the system helps them stay below the EPA emission thresholds.
An unexpected benefit of having this level of control is that it creates a highly accurate load profile of the combined assets. Duke now participates on a limited basis in a demand management program offered by the local utility, but could one day extend the Blue Pillar system beyond emergency power to other energy assets including chillers, thermal storage and cogeneration plants. It can allow large campuses to nominate higher amounts of curtailable load among combined assets without impacting any critical loads.

Future plans being investigated involve implementing similar emergency electrical service backup for such mission-critical areas as emergency care areas, egress illumination, elevators, obstetrical delivery rooms, operating rooms, emergency communication systems, special care units, newborn nurseries, medical/surgical vacuum systems, medical air compressors, post-operative recovery rooms, and blood, bone and tissue storage units.

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