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1998-05-16 07:59:36


EPRI Meeting Report: Barely at Assessment, Test Failures



A report from the Dallas meeting of the Electric Power Research Institute.

Most of power companies in attendance were barely finished with assessments or not yet finished.

Those few that have begun testing are experiencing failures. But the failures aren't so critical that systems will shut down.

So, concludes the reporter, we will have power.

The attendees at this conference were the ones that had paid the EPRI's fee of $75,000 a year to participate, i.e., under a hundred utilities -- the biggies. But there are over 7,800 power-generating and distributing organizations in the U.S. Is there an outside possibility that some of them are not as far along as the biggies, which are themselves not beyond the assessment phase, i.e., still facing over 90% of their repair projects? The big ones may generate most of the power, but the interconnections on-line with noncompliant companies will create a huge number of opportunities for breakdown, even if all of the biggies reach compliance. So far, none has.

Nevertheless, the reporter is optimistic.

Now all we need to do is find ways of getting fuel shipped in and get power transmission systems compliant. And make sure that all the software is coded correctly, so that the individual systems are compliant. (PEPCO has 8,000 noncompliant systems.) Then all of the vendor-supplied software must be compliant, consistent with each other, and fully integreated into the newly repaired systems.

Next, the banks must be compliant, we that we can pay our power bills, assuming the U.S. Postal Service is compliant. The power companies must be able to pay each other for power consumed and also pay their suppliers. So, the suppliers must be compliant and remain in business, and so must their suppliers.

Apart from this, there's no problem.

* * * * * *

Good news/bad news. Most everyone had completed or was close to completing their initial assessments, and some preliminary testing has been accomplished by most organizations. Unfortunately, only about 10% of the organizations had completed significant portions of their testing.

Bad news/good news. Of those organizations that had completed significant testing, they were finding failure rates in the 10% range. The good news is that for embedded COMPONENTS, not a single "fatal" failure was found. Zip. Zero. Nada. I am calling anything with less computing power than a PLC (programable logic controller) an embedded component. Yes, the dates might be wrong, but the smart field transmitters still measured properly, the digital trend recorders still plotted trends, and the digital meters still displayed correct numbers (except for the date). Nothing at this level just froze up, so far.

It is starting to appear that it takes a fairly high level embedded SYSTEM to really screw up and lock up. A DCS (Digital Control System) or DAS (Data Aquisition System) can possibly fail in this manner. Even if 50% of all high level digital sytems have a Y2K problem (ie one of their many components is not Y2K compliant), it is starting to look like only one in ten will fail so bad as to trip a plant, whether it is a eletric plant or a refinery.

While the facts are just starting to come in, this seems to mean that most electric plants will only have a few systems that must be fixed before 12/31/99, so that they can still keep on producing power. IMHO, this does not appear to be insurmountable. If the Y2K problem is going to cause world wide hardships, it will happen with (most) of the lights on.

Fred Swirbul


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