Rus­sell Wanger­sky: A tale of soft­ware and power lines

The Telegram (St. John’s) - - FRONT PAGE - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Rus­sell Wanger­sky’s col­umn ap­pears in 36 Saltwire news­pa­pers and web­sites in At­lantic Canada. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­[email protected]­gram.com — Twit­ter: @wanger­sky.

So, I heard from a reader in Swe­den.

Had I heard about the Sy­dvast­lanken, he won­dered? I hadn’t.

Well, much like the Labrador Is­land Link, the Sy­dvast­lanken (or South West Link) is a high volt­age di­rect cur­rent (HVDC) power line sys­tem.

The pro­ject was started in 2011 and in­cluded con­nect­ing the Swedish towns of Halls­berg and Bark­eryd with 250 kilo­me­tres of HVDC ca­bles and over­head lines. The pro­ject was sup­posed to help even out Swedish elec­tri­cal prices and was to cost $1.07 bil­lion. It was a turnkey pro­ject, in­clud­ing valve mod­ules, trans­form­ers and “control sys­tems from the HVDC ex­cel­lence cen­tre in Stafford, U.K.,” ac­cord­ing to the suc­cess­ful bid­der, Gen­eral Elec­tric Grid Solutions.

GE Grid Solutions is also the suc­cess­ful bid­der on the Labrador Is­land Link.

The LIL bid was also a “full turnkey pro­ject,” ac­cord­ing to GE, and also in­cludes valves, trans­form­ers and control sys­tems — control sys­tems that are also com­ing from the com­pany’s Stafford, U.K. site.

The LIL was sup­posed to come into ser­vice last sum­mer — then, at the end of Oc­to­ber. Then it was sup­posed to be op­er­a­tion for Jan­uary.

There are lin­ger­ing problems with the soft­ware that op­er­ates the control sys­tem. The line is cur­rently us­ing Ver­sion 15 of the soft­ware — Ver­sion 16a has ar­rived but hasn’t been in­stalled: “The de­ci­sion was based on the lim­ited ben­e­fit of the ad­di­tional fea­tures of Ver­sion 16a and the risk to the sched­ule of im­ple­ment­ing a new ver­sion which would have to un­dergo ad­di­tional test­ing,” ac­cord­ing to New­found­land and Labrador Hy­dro doc­u­ments.

An ex­ter­nal con­sul­tant re­view­ing that de­ci­sion noted: “Rec­om­men­da­tion by ex­ter­nal HVDC con­sul­tant has been doc­u­mented, find­ings in­clude that there is a min­i­mal ben­e­fit as­so­ci­ated with ver­sion 16a, with no as­sur­ance that in­stal­la­tion can be achieved in the on­go­ing planned out­age with­out a neg­a­tive im­pact. Based upon these find­ings it is not rec­om­mended to in­stall the soft­ware …”

So, part of the sys­tem will be op­er­ated man­u­ally through the cru­cial win­ter sea­son, when we may need the power.

Turns out the Sy­dvast­lanken’s soft­ware isn’t do­ing so well ei­ther.

The Sy­dvast­lanken was sup­posed to have been brought on­line in 2015.

Now, the Swedish util­ity, Sven­ska Kraft­nat, is hop­ing the line may come into full ser­vice by March 2019 — four years late.

Here’s part of an email from Sven­ska Kraft­nat com­mu­ni­ca­tions of­fi­cer Joel Nylin.

“(It) oc­curs as our problems are sim­i­lar with yours. GE Grid haven’t been able to de­liver the tech­ni­cal solutions in con­verter sta­tions. All other parts of the pro­ject such as the phys­i­cal el­e­ments have been fin­ished ac­cord­ing to plan. The four-year de­lay of the Hvdc-link are due to that GE Grid haven’t been able to make the sys­tem func­tion in a sta­ble and sat­is­fy­ing way,” Nylin writes.

“There isn’t a spe­cific is­sue de­lay­ing the com­mis­sion but a num­ber of faults and de­vi­a­tions that are be­ing han­dling in or­der to get all parts of the func­tions to work and com­mu­ni­cate as in­tended. For in­stance, there have been nu­mer­ous de­vi­a­tions in the control and pro­tec­tions sys­tems.

“The problems have vari­ated all from qual­ity flaws to need for de­vel­op­ing new soft­ware solutions. The re­main­ing work con­sists of test­ing, han­dling de­viances and im­ple­ment­ing solutions. There is con­tin­u­ous progress in the work and even though the link has been post­poned sev­eral times, we are still op­ti­mistic that GE Grid will be able to fin­ish the job.”

Clear, forth­right, frank and de­liv­ered in a few hours. By com­par­i­son, Nal­cor’s re­sponse when I started ask­ing them about their is­sues with GE soft­ware months ago? “As we move through the com­mis­sion­ing phase of the LIL, GE is con­tin­u­ing to de­velop its soft­ware as this is the nor­mal course of soft­ware de­vel­op­ment for these type of trans­mis­sion projects.”

New­found­land Hy­dro has since warned the prov­ince’s Pub­lic Util­i­ties Board about the soft­ware problems, say­ing, “Hy­dro ac­knowl­edges that the re­li­a­bil­ity of the cur­rent GE soft­ware im­ple­men­ta­tion has yet to be demon­strated and re­mains a risk to the re­li­able in-ser­vice of the LIL.”

Lib­erty Con­sul­tants, work­ing for the PUB, have been warn­ing about GE’S per­for­mance for months now, point­ing out, “It bears note that Gen­eral Elec­tric cor­po­rate-wide has ex­pe­ri­enced sig­nif­i­cant le­gal problems and fi­nan­cial tur­moil, with con­cern par­tic­u­larly fo­cused on its power busi­ness. GE’S power unit plans to cut over 15 per cent of its work force this year.”

GE’S trou­bles, Lib­erty said, “presents ma­jor chal­lenges for a pro­ject whose per­for­mance has lagged and con­tin­ues to do so.”

So there are delays and con­cerns aplenty.

Why does it mat­ter? Be­cause we might crit­i­cally need the power as soon as this win­ter.

And ev­ery de­lay means in­ter­est pay­ments con­tinue to pile up on them­selves.

But it’s not the Sy­dvast­lanken. At least not yet.

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