Contingency planning for Y2K

Contingency planning for Y2K

With the Year 2000 just around the corner, it`s probably already too late for power companies who have not already started to make preparations. For these, and power companies which have been unable to test their entire plant, it will be a case of signing up for emergency support. PEi listened to what Siemens has to offer.

Junior Isles

Russia has a big problem with its strategy. The World Bank offers it money to prepare for the Y2K problem but they will not accept it because it will reduce the amount of credit they have.” Leo Mikuta, director of Siemens KWU Y2K programme was candid about the problems facing some countries` preparedness for the Y2K computer problem.

The Y2K (Year 2000) stems from computers inability to distinguish between 2000 and 00 (see PEi March 1998, page 48). The problem could be massive for industry. According to the Gartner Group, some 30-40 per cent of all facilities will have problems. It has also said that some 50 per cent of industries worldwide will not be prepared for Y2K and the average cost to industrial plant could be $6.7 million. This figure includes the cost for upgrade, engineering and testing.

On the whole the power industry is fairly well prepared. In the USA, the North Electric Reliability Council has a Y2K programme which involves all of the US utilities. Similarly, most of Europe and other developed regions seem to have things in hand. For other parts of the world, however, the situation is one which does not breed confidence. And at this late stage it will be a case of preventing major outages.

“Any money given to Russia would be for contingency plans. We can do work so that major power plant trips are avoided in Russian nuclear and fossil fuelled plants,” explained Mikuta.

The one saving grace with many of these plants which are more than 20 years old, is that they often have hard wired systems. Mikuta explained: “In these cases, the customer often says he will do nothing since only the process computer can be affected and there are problems with the process computer everyday anyway. Utilities in many parts of South America or Africa are also accustomed to power plant trips on a daily or weekly basis.”

Most hard wired systems are found in developing countries where, according to Siemens, typically 30-40 per cent of their plant have hard wired systems.

With Russia, however, the problem is slightly different. “They have these hybrid systems – part hard wired, part electronic. They have a slightly different philosophy to western convention. In western countries, we have strictly separated process computers from the operational system. In Russia they are connected,” said Mikuta.

I&C strategy

Siemens has checked the instrumentation and control systems installed in some 1404 plants worldwide. While it is confident that its systems are Y2K compliant, it accepts that the I&C is only a small part of a power plant and that the interaction between all systems in an entire plant cannot be fully tested.

Of the 1404, some 900 will be upgraded and completely checked. Of this 900 Siemens estimates that maybe 20 per cent will need support for the date transition.

The transition to the Year 2000 has both direct and indirect effects on I&C systems. Direct effects would typically include problems like incorrect display of date; incorrect sorting sequence with loss of data; and faulty calculations; to more serious system faults and system failures. Indirect effects which could be potentially dangerous might be incorrect reactions by the operator or incorrect triggering of functions in automatic systems.

Siemens is offering three service packages: S1, S2 and S3. These have been popular in places like Mexico, Korea, Taiwan, South Africa, India, Germany, Sweden, and Denmark.

Under service package one (S1), Siemens produces a plant description; collects and examines Year 2000 information from subcontractors and performs an examination of the control system.

Under S2, Siemens carries out Year 2000 plants tests and performs upgrades based on the results of the tests.

This close to the Year 2000 however, Siemens sees service package number three as very important. “It provides support for critical dates i.e. December 31, 1999; January 1, 2000, January 2, 2000 and February 28 and 29, 2000,” noted Mikuta. Service package S3 is divided into three parts – S3A, S3B and S3C.

The S3A service package is a Y2K hotline support service where a plant operator can contact a Siemens expert via phone or, modem and `Televisio`. The modem/Televisio is a remote-large screen based communication system which allows the Siemens engineer in Karlsruhe to see and operate the plant remotely.

The S3B service package is an on-call service (not customer specific) where a service technician can be called by the customer.

The third, S3C is a combination of S3A and S3B and is customer specific. Here a Y2K technician is on site exclusively for a particular customer. This technician, in addition to having expert knowledge of the Siemens I&C system, must also have knowledge about the plant. This on-site engineer can also call the hotline service engineer for backup.

Siemens will have some 40-50 people on the end of the hotline during the critical dates. The central hotline will be in Karlsruhe, Germany and there will be `internal hotlines` from Karlsruhe to its own internal divisions and to control system suppliers like Hewlett Packard, SCO and to outside subcontractors.

Siemens will also have main hotlines in Malaysia, New Zealand and Australia and the USA; and small local hotlines in Holland, India and South Africa. For the local hotlines there will 150-200 people dedicated to I&C distributed throughout the various countries.

Best laid plans

Siemens has made more than 40 complete plant tests and in each case has found different types of minor problems. A culmination of minor problems, however, could cause a chain effect resulting in a much bigger problem.

Many of these problems will be caused by embedded systems, which are microprocessor chips that have date information in them. There is no way of testing these embedded systems except for rolling the clocks forward and testing the entire plant.

Germany`s suppliers seem to be preparing for every eventuality. PreussenElektra will ensure its pumped storage lakes are at maximum capacity to provide electricity to key facilities like hospitals, airports etc. if necessary. It is also prepared to operate the grid in island operation.

German power plant operators have also increased their stocks of coal, oil and gas in the event of a problem with the fuel supply.

The main challenge with the date transition may not come from any computer systems but may stem from fear of what could happen. Siemens agrees that what we may see is a 20-25 per cent increase in peak demand in Germany. If this turns out to be the case, it may be just as important to have a healthy reserve margin as fully compliant Y2K systems.

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Figure 1. On the whole the power industry is fairly well prepared for Y2K

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Figure 2. Siemens has checked the instrumentation and control systems installed in some 1404 plants worldwide

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Figure 3. Service packages have been popular in places like India

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