August 11, 2021
8 min read

Why this HVDC operator is putting power transmission in the cloud

Nina Hendy

Surrounded by Tasmania’s pristine bushland, it is hard to imagine that, out here, a collaboration is breaking entirely new ground with a power transmission cloud-based online monitoring solution – an approach set to become the new standard.

On a foggy winter morning, Greg Mather and Joska Ferencz slide open the huge gates for us at the Basslink converter station just outside of George Town in northern Tasmania. Mather, an engineer at Basslink, and Ferencz, the Chief Operating Officer, have been working together since the interconnector began operations in 2006.

No doubt they’ve seen changes in the industry over the years, but most recently their days are filled with talk about the new Siemens Energy digitalization platform, known as SensSolution®. It works by processing data from substations to a cloud-based platform where operators can access applications and dashboards to gain insights into the system’s actual status.

Joska Ferencz and Greg Mather, along with the rest of the Basslink team, will have 24/7 access to the interconnector’s historical and live operating data.

Mather, Ferencz and the Basslink team will be able to directly access the customized results via the Internet and view live data remotely, providing a gateway into the world of the Internet of Energy (IoE), big data analytics and digital services.

Today’s operators face several challenges, explains Ferencz, including the increasing share of renewables in the power grid and their hard-to-predict feed-ins. Plant engineers need to plan ahead and make the right decisions to ensure optimized operation.

“Digitalization,” says Mather, “will be a complete game changer.”

Our objective is to maximize our availability and minimize service interruptions.

Joska Ferencz

Chief Operating Officer, Basslink

A co-creation for the power industry

Siemens Energy handpicked the Basslink high-voltage direct current transmission (HVDC) line for this digitalization project because the team at Basslink have long displayed an open approach toward innovation and learning over the years.

When it first went into operation, the 295-kilometer link was the longest submarine power cable in the world and the first interconnection between Tasmania and the Australian state of Victoria.

The new project is one of a several successful co-creation projects under way between Siemens Energy and its customers. This close collaboration between the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and the operators considerably accelerates the development of innovative solutions and radical new ideas by expanding the pool of firsthand experience, skills and resources that projects can draw from.

Siemens Energy Project Manager Bernd Koppenhoefer, based in Nuremberg, Germany, almost 16,500 kilometers away from the station in George Town, is driving Siemens Energy’s side of the project, working in close, “virtual” collaboration with Mather, Ferencz and the rest of the team. “We began by developing an overall HVDC concept for data connectivity, including how to use the data and create value with it. And now we’re working together to further develop and adapt this for Basslink,” he says. 

Dashboards can be created for the different perspectives and focuses within each organization and allow for a common response across the board to events.

Data, dashboards and predicting the future

“We’ve been sharing ideas for overview dashboards and navigation to other dashboards created over video calls for months,” says Mather. “We’re particularly excited about how easy it is for us to create new dashboard functionality for forecasting.”

Essentially, this means that Basslink operators can now tap into huge historical data lakes that already lie dormant in their transmission systems and assets, enabling engineers to analyze them, improve operations and unlock better operational efficiencies.

To be displayed on dashboards, the data enables Basslink’s maintenance crew to easily identify the devices initiating the most significant events and then address the major challenges such as forecasting ambient temperature and power flow capability. The team can then initiate a review for root cause analysis and performance improvements, meaning maintenance crews have the tools to autonomously perform the function of experienced staff.

Basslink had collected data in the past, Mather points out, but that was primarily for archives. “This is far beyond that. It’s actually using this data to predict the future and to predict how you can improve your plant.”

Minimizing maintenance, maximizing availability

“Digitalization holds huge opportunities,” says Ferencz, “and one-way connectivity makes sure that data can only flow in one direction and never exposes the HVDC control system to the outside. This means that intrusion into the substation via the Internet isn’t possible.”

He’s looking forward to the new digital dashboards providing a live overview of the entire transmission process and the status of all connected transmission network parts to accurately interpret Basslink’s actual status.

By continuously collecting important operating data, the team can help manage load flows, detect system anomalies, and track faults fast and efficiently, bolstering network availability. “Our objective is to maximize our availability and minimize service interruptions – and ensure the facility has a longevity over its extended design life,” says Ferencz.

“The automation provided by digitalization,” adds Mather, “allows a more efficient use of the existing resources while removing the human factor inconsistencies. Plus, it releases people from the mundane tasks of recording operation counts of circuit breakers and transformers.”

Tasmania’s power is provided via one of the world’s longest submarine cable links that lies on the ocean floor across Bass Strait to mainland Australia.

Building flexibility into the system

Basslink is owned by the Singaporean listed entity Keppel Infrastructure Trust (KIT). The initiatives being developed by Siemens Energy and the Basslink team have the full support of the Basslink CEO & Board. Hydroelectric power plants generate electricity with Basslink, enabling Tasmania to replenish its base load through electricity imports from the mainland in dry periods when the island’s reservoirs are not sufficiently filled.

Over in Victoria, Basslink improves peak load supply with green energy from Tasmania, while the state also gains access to the electricity market on the Australian continent via the HVDC transmission link. Each day, the stations are populated by a handful of engineers charged with continual asset monitoring to keep the power flowing between the two states.

In the future, Mather and Ferencz believe digitalization will be the new standard for long-distance power transmission. As electricity networks become greener, they also become more complex and more challenging to operate with the same reliability and availability we know today. For Basslink, digitalization, real-time analysis and monitoring will provide much of the flexibility and leverage needed to handle that complexity. 

August 11, 2021

Based in Tasmania, Australia, Nina Hendy is an independent journalist specializing in business and finance. Her work has been published in a number of media outlets, including The Financial Review, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

Combined picture and video credits: Andrew Wilson