JEA’s evolution is not something new

But the technologies they’re adding are

Published In: Intelligent Utility September / October 2011

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JEA HAS BEEN PURSUING THE EVOLUTION OF ITS ELECTRIC grid and generation systems almost forever, it seems.

The 116-year-old electric utility has always maintained a leading edge, not only in its technology deployment, but also in the way its employees think, and approach their jobs.

That's one of the reasons why the term "smart grid" is so confining for JEA.

Just a term

"One of the problems with `smart grid' is that it's just a term, and it means different things to different people," explained Mike Brost, JEA's vice president of electrical systems. "We take pride in the delivery of safe, reliable, effective service." Customer service and reliability, in fact, are of prime importance in JEA's approach to its "smart grid" programs. Its mission also speaks to a continued path, rather than a newly launched one, in that it says, "Continue to use technology to improve customer service and liability."

"Our smart grid focus is on enhancing the relationship with our residential customers and being foundationally ready to address the technology opportunities of the future," Victor Monfort, JEA's director of smart grid programs, told a webcast audience in late August.

A technology-based history

Today's modern technologies, Brost said, are "a huge engine for growth of the modern electric system."

"The transmission system is already smart," he pointed out. "One of the problems is that people criticize the bulk electric system. It's really very sophisticated."

JEA monitors its system 24/7 through its computers, something the utility, like others, has been doing for quite a while. In fact, JEA has been leveraging technology throughout its systems for many years. For example:   

  •  first digital computerized SCADA implemented in 1976
  •  microwave protective relaying implemented in 1980
  •  fiber optic fully redundant communications with all plants/ substations by 1985
  •  digital protective relaying on fiber optics implemented in 1987
  •  automated outage management system (OMS) deployed in 1991
  •  automated meter reading (AMR) deployed in 2005

 

Even with the continued addition of new technology, though, the control room - from a user's perspective - hasn't changed that much over recent years, Brost said. "The tools and software, however, are a lot smarter and more sophisticated," he added.

Securing the assets

Securing those new assets, both inside the utility and out in the field, has brought about a lot of changes in recent years to JEA, though, and connected IT and Operations departments more firmly at the hip than before in the process.

"NERC CIP [North American Electric Reliability Corporation Critical Infrastructure Protection] has brought about huge changes to processes and procedures," Brost pointed out.

NERC CIP changes the landscape

"In the past, the operations group on the electricity side of the house had an independent IT department," explained Wanyonyi Kendrick, JEA's CIO.

"When FERC [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] Order 706 came in, which required NERC to start focusing on critical assets regarding cyber security, we knew we needed a senior manager responsible for certifying we were in compliance."

NERC CIP regulations, as they came into force, "required Mike and I to work closely together," she said.

FERC Order 706, issued on Jan. 18, 2008, approved eight mandatory critical infrastructure reliability standards proposed by NERC, which required certain users, owners and operators of the bulk power system to comply with specific requirements to safeguard critical cyber assets. The penalties for non-compliance are steep, and the paperwork and documentation requirements prior to each utility's first NERC CIP audit presented, in some utilities, some governance challenges.

"We now have two full-time CIP compliance staff members" Kendrick said. "We just completed our first audit, which took six months of preparation work, three weeks to complete and, I would estimate, probably eight weeks in follow-up work." There are additional regulations on the horizon for electric and water SCADA systems, as well as JEA's e-business financial system, she added.

"Ten years ago, IT security was not on the horizon. Five years ago, it was ancillary on projects," Kendrick said. "Our goal is to make IT security built into our systems from the beginning."

Looking for the silver lining

"I always try to look at the positives," Kendrick added. (People who know her within the utility industry would call that an understatement, if there ever was one.) "I had the privilege - and obligation - to oversee the work involved in the audit. My team alone was averaging 80 hours a week for three weeks. NERC CIP provided us with a plus - it really allowed us to accelerate our maturity regarding IT security," she said.

What's ahead for JEA

As JEA looks to the future, Kendrick cautions that there's always work to do, and always room to grow. "Our 12 essential systems are really state of the art, but our integration is not," she said. "We have to continue to focus on IT security, and focus on the interface between systems - that's our priority."

 

 

 

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