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A chat with NYPA on cloud computing

The New York Power Authority (NYPA) has launched a study to research the feasibility of using cloud computing for real-time monitoring of utility power systems. We chat with Alan Ettlinger, Director, Research, Technology Development & Innovation, about the study's goals, including an effort to craft a network that is more efficient and less expensive to run.

What was the impetus for this study around cloud computing? 

Ettlinger: Even though hundreds of phasor measurement units were installed by utilities following the 2003 blackout, utilities still have no interconnection-wide ability to monitor the electric power network in real time. We decided to investigate whether cloud computing could be used for this purpose. Our proposal began with the simple observation that if each bulk electrical power grid company had to build its own dedicated network and systems for monitoring and processing data, they would each have to replicate an infrastructure very similar to what now exists in private, commercial cloud offerings. The use of cloud computing technology could potentially be much less expensive. That’s what we’re looking to find out.

What are you hoping to learn?

Ettlinger: First, it should be made clear that this is only a research and development project for energy management and SCADA systems in the cloud. It does not touch on our bulk electric system, systems or data, all of which we place a very high priority on protecting. Our proposed research will allow the New York Power Authority -- or any other utility -- to understand the opportunities, challenges and limitations of using a cloud-based solution rather than servers and hard-wired communications for operational monitoring and real-time analysis. For example, we will see whether consistent visibility of the regional network model and availability of shared information would make it easier for operators to respond to complex contingencies, especially when they are affecting wide areas of the grid.

Are you going into the process with any assumptions? If so, what assumptions?

Ettlinger: We believe that capturing and using real-time data will help us act more quickly when it comes to addressing service changes, monitoring remote events and  running the electric grid reliably and optimally. Our assumptions include using real-time PMU data or using synthetic data to monitor grid data.

What does the study partnership with Cornell University and Washington State University entail?

Ettlinger: The Cornell team is well-versed at working on critical infrastructure challenges, and the WSU team has expertise constructing applications for electric utility control centers. In this study, they will oversee a team of researchers who will work with NYPA to carry out experiments to evaluate the feasibility of using cloud computing to host a large-scale monitoring and analysis platform able to track the entire state network.

What would it take to deem cloud tech feasible/practical for NYPA's purposes?

Ettlinger: While this project will focus on needs specific to NYPA, it is really a starting point for a potential future deployment of cloud solutions in NYPA and New York State. Industry-wide, we need to confirm that a cloud platform would help us achieve three goals: tight control over who sees the data; the ability to analyze the impact of past events; and the scalability needed to react if there was ever an attack by nation-state adversaries. If we can be confident about that potential, cloud computing could be a very reasonable option. 

Kathleen Wolf Davis's picture

Thank Kathleen for the Post!

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