HB Communications lights up state-of-the-art control rooms for Northeast Utilities

Until recently, Connecticut-based Northern Utilities was managing its power grids with paper maps and static mimic boards in the command centers of two of its subsidiaries – Public Service Company of New Hampshire (PSNH) and Connecticut Light & Power (CL&P). Northern Utilities and its subsidiaries – tasked with providing smooth, reliable and uninterrupted power service to a good deal of New England – decided it was time to upgrade its mission-critical control room (or system operations center) infrastructure.

HB Communications helped Northeast Utilities modernize its power grid control centers at subsidiaries Public Service Company of New Hampshire and Connecticut Light & Power. These monitors from Santa Ana-based Large Screen Displays, powered by Christie Digital rear-screen projectors, are centerpieces in the new high-definition displays at both NU subsidiaries’ system operation centers. Click here to view an enlarged diagram.

Based on a successful track record from three previously control room upgrades, in October 2002, Northern Utilities again contracted with North Haven, Conn.-based HB Communications to overhaul the PSNH and CL&P facilities. It was a convenient time to re-think how they went about their business since the company was consolidating four smaller control centers in Connecticut.

“Northern Utilities charged us with helping them do a needs analysis to answer questions like ‘what new types of software should they be using, taking into account viewability and resolution?’ and ‘how big should the room be to house a virtual real estate display of their coverage area?,’” said Josh Bittner, HB’s account executive and control room sales specialist who oversaw the projects.

After extensive research and on-site visits to state-of-the-art facilities around the U.S., HB and its client decided on the optimal system operation center configuration. HB commenced installation and integration in the PSNH and CL&P facilities. The process culminated in December 2003, with Northern Utilities flipping the switch on new facilities that house three video walls, each consisting of eight high-definition video screens – two screens high and four screens across. Each wall has eight Christie Digital Systems projectors – one for each individual screen – projecting images onto Culumn high-definition digital screens made by Santa Ana, CA-based Large Screen Displays. The walls are controlled by a Jupiter Fusion 960 Control Wall Processor. The centers have been in operation throughout 2004.

The Culumn projectors were a central piece to HB Communications’ vision for Northern Utilities.

“PiC EZ ThinLine Culumn displays emit no horizontal seams throughout the two-screen-high wall. Typically there would be physical seam separation, both vertically and horizontally in other screens,” said Randy Pagnan, chief operating officer, Large Screen Displays. “However, the Culumn seamless system eliminates the horizontal seam between images. Each 2x4 video wall has only three physical seams — all on the vertical axis.”

The results are dynamic control-and-command centers for day-to-day monitoring of Public Service Company of New Hampshire and Connecticut Light & Power’s respective power grids. As Bittner explains it, at each wall, a different geographical area is displayed. The operator monitoring that area can choose from a pre-set layout for the wall and further customize the view as needed. Duties for the center’s around-the-clock operations are spread among three eight-hour shifts each day. Every time a new operator logs in for their next shift, the system automatically recognizes them and pulls up their preferred scenario, which is also customizable. On their shift, the operators can make changes in how they view the wall. They can pan and zoom into a particular part of the region they are covering or take a broad view. Through an Emergency Display System, they can zoom all the way down to a particular house to check on its power.

Operators are overseen by their managers through separate supervisor stations. Through these stations, the supervisor can take control of any of the walls at any time thanks to a Crestron Control System, which allows central control for multiple devices. The supervisor uses a touch panel to look at diagnostic information or make changes to the wall. The Crestron system constantly polls all the devices being monitored – such as projector lamps – against the pre-determined diagnostic information. If it senses a discrepancy between what is happening and what is normal, it will spit out an email to the shift manager to let them know of potential failures.

In addition to improving its day-to-day operations, the new centers also have enabled Northern Utilities to refine its training methods. The centers have a smaller two-screen simulator room to train new operators.

HB Communications provides Northern Utilities 24-hour repair, maintenance and customer service to ensure that its customer continues to provide its Connecticut and New Hampshire consumers with uninterrupted service.

“We’ve been working with Northern Utilities for about 15 years,” says Bittner, noting that the PSNH and CL&P are the fourth and fifth such control rooms HB has built for its longtime client. “In that time, we’ve never had a system go down. We’re on 24-hour call and our service technicians carry beepers, so if there’s a failure in the middle of the night we will dispatch the technician to keep them up and running.”

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