By Matt Nauman
SAN RAMON – PG&E has been steadily improving the safety of its gas system over the past few years. A new gas control center, which just opened in San Ramon, is a tangible example of those improvements. It represents a state-of-the-art approach to gas operations.
Mel Christopher, PG&E’s senior director of gas system operations, gave Currents a tour of the high-tech facility.
“We’re dealing with 7,000 miles of transmission pipeline, 42,000 miles of distribution pipeline and all the information about the health of that system in real time is brought to this one location,” he said. “So whether it’s a phone call from a customer that smells gas or if it’s information we gather from our SCADA system about a developing problem, we know it, we can respond to it and in many cases our objective is to predict it and prevent it from occurring.”
Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition or SCADA is the system that monitors and allows operators to control the gas system remotely.
One large room with a huge video wall
The control room enables PG&E to move more quickly to assess and resolve problems. System operators for both the transmission and distribution gas system are located in one large room. At their work stations, several monitors provide details of specific parts of PG&E’s gas system. In front of them is a 90-foot-long video wall that provides key data from across the service area.
Christopher explained the thinking behind the design of the room. “We built it so that when something occurs or something begins to develop, colors change, things happen in real time and provide visibility that didn’t exist before,” he said.
He added, “It’s a very important part of what we’re doing here.”
Less than a year ago, this room was an empty shell. At that time, Christopher took reporters on a tour of the facility in the Bishop Ranch complex and spoke about the company’s plans. Now, the project is nearing completion, and reporters came back to see PG&E’s progress.
Besides the video wall, the control center is chockfull of innovative elements, such as a smart board that allows real-time communication with personnel in the field and a simulator room.
“The smart board is tool we use to really enhance the collaboration with personnel in the field. So whether they’re operating valves in response to an emergency or if they’re doing a clearance or doing work on the system we’re able to collaborate with them,” he said.
Christopher demonstrated how he could circle a specific location on a digital map and others many miles away would be able to see that circle on their laptops or tablets. “So we’re actually seeing the same thing. We’re talking about the same information,” he said.
The adjacent simulator room will be used to train new operators and to keep experienced operators up to date.
“We designed this facility, including our training, from an emergency response perspective, so this room is very important to us. This is a room where we get to train our employees to see things through the SCADA system, through the control center that hopefully they’ll never see in the other control center,” he said.
Considering what has come together at the Gas Control Center, Christopher sees an obvious parallel.
“Air traffic controllers know where the airplanes are at any point in time. They’re monitoring it. They’re taking actions to make sure that everything is safe. We do the same thing. Pilots go through simulator training so they can see things in a simulated environment they hope they never see anywhere else. We’re doing the same thing here. We can put employees through a simulated event, a simulated emergency, or a line break, so that they have a sense of what it would look like on the SCADA system. So if it ever happens in real time in the control center it’s not the first time they’ve seen it.”
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