ARS Ahoy…

Automatic reserve sharing, the words on their own are pretty basic. However, combine the three and things can get a little confusing.  Especially since the acronym (ARS) sounds like pirate talk (ARRRRS Matey!) or a body part in England (we’ll let you get to the bottom of that your own).  Anyway, we are going to rely on our northern most member to help explain what it’s all “aboot.”

Manitoba Hydro, situated just north of the Minnesota border, is one of the largest utilities in Canada. Fun fact … it’s also one of the lowest cost providers of electricity in all of Canada. While the utility is not subject to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) oversight, both MISO and Manitoba must fulfill reliability requirements set by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, or NERC. That includes the requirement to maintain electricity reserves. There’s the “R” in ARS.  Reserves – the excess electricity produced by generators that acts as a “just in case” cushion and is used to make up for an unexpected loss of electricity that occurs because of a sudden generator outage.  Who doesn’t like to have reserves right?

To capitalize on the reserves in both regions, MISO and Manitoba Hydro developed the “MISO-MBHydro Contingency Reserve Sharing Group.” The group develops and defines the reserve sharing rules.  And as we all know … sharing is caring and caring is sharing!  At least that’s what we tell our kids.

These days, MISO engineers and operators work together to find super-smart solutions for moving energy across international borders. With a goal to always improve things, MISO and Manitoba Hydro began a project to improve their automatic reserve sharing through the … drumroll please … Automatic Reserve Sharing (ARS) System (read that name again slowly with the echo effect turned on inside your head and you won’t be disappointed).  The updated ARS tool brings lots of bells and whistles to the computer systems that automatically and repeatedly scan the grid to make sure there is enough electricity flowing to meet the needs of the people in the Manitoba and the MISO footprint.

To recap … Automatic Reserve Sharing is the use of automated systems to help with the sharing of reserves between MISO and Manitoba Hydro.  Even a pirate can understand that with haaaardly a problem at all!

Armed with a better understanding of ARS, we sat down with Steve Swan, senior manager of dispatch and scheduling and Dan Myers, senior manager of real time and transmission access management software development (whew, how’d you like those titles?), to find out exactly how the ARS project benefits MISO, Manitoba and the rest of the footprint.

Dan, who participates in automatic reserve sharing and who benefits, the whole footprint or just certain portions? 

All of the MISO members from the U.S. share in one pool of reserves that is managed by MISO. Manitoba Hydro manages a second pool of reserves in the Manitoba Province.  Between us, we share spinning and supplemental reserves needed to react to unplanned generation losses that affect the grid. In fact, last year MISO provided more than of $38 million in benefits to customers throughout the footprint (15 states and Manitoba) because of our ability to share reserves.

MISO’s ARS procedures refer only to Manitoba Hydro – are there other players?

The only members of the Reserve Sharing Group are MISO and Manitoba Hydro. Manitoba can call on reserves from MISO to respond to losses in their area and vice versa.

Were all of your objectives obvious or was there some creativity / innovation involved to come up with the new system?

After several years of using the ARS system, we identified opportunities for improvement, especially in the areas of grid security and the ways in which the system represents energy exchanges along the MISO border. We also needed to ensure our systems could keep pace with ever-changing browser technologies. We positioned the upgraded system for future compatibility with Internet Explorer, Chrome and Firefox.

What is/are the most significant enhancements to the tool?

One feature that is particularly helpful is the Zero megawatt test. Since ARS may go…

Hold the phone, what is a Zero megawatt test?

I knew you were going to ask that. The transmission system can go for days without seeing any sort of disruption, which means the ARS system does not create any alerts. The only true way to know if the system is still working is to test it. Prior to this upgrade, the lowest amount of energy we could use to test the ARS system was 1 megawatt, not exactly the no-impact experience one hopes for during a system test.  With the Zero Megawatt Test, we can test the ARS system without moving any electricity at all.

Were there any other significant enhancements?

We also created the ability for Manitoba Hydro to import events directly into their systems 24-7 by essentially “asking” our computers. This capability allows for better information exchange between Manitoba’s computer systems and it and it provides for more thorough alarming.

How long did the upgrade take?

We began designing the system in summer of 2014 but the project saw a few delays along the way. We completed the software construction in the spring of this year and then focused our efforts on testing, validation and training. Then more testing, validation and training.  You get the idea.  It was a lather, rinse and repeat kind of cycle.  At the end, not only did the upgrade work, but now our hair looks great.

How do the ARS system enhancements help MISO keep the lights on?

We created the ARS to facilitate our most basic goal of providing reliable electricity. At the end of the day, it is our job to keep the lights on and we take it seriously. We strive for operational excellence and the more we can engineer and automate the less likely we are to see mistakes.

What’s next on the list for your group?

We have a couple of initiatives in the works. We are about half way through a three-year effort to replace the user interface with our day-ahead and real-time system.  Additionally, the team is working on a project to help ensure compliance to NERC Standard BAL-003 Frequency Response and Frequency Bias Setting.

Last question. Do you know any pirate jokes?

Sure. Why does it take pirates so long to learn the alphabet?

I don’t know?

Because they spend years at C.

Aye, shiver me timbers

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