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Wide-Area Operations Training

Hands-on simulator enhances grid operator training

Most vendors of large-scale energy management systems have developed hands-on training simulators for electric power grid dispatchers and many large control centers throughout the country have implemented these simulators to drill dispatchers on emergency restoration procedures. These simulators have proved successful in increasing the proficiency of power grid operators by providing a realistic training environment and enhancing the sophistication of the training curriculum.

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On August 14, 2003, the failure of an alarm processor associated with a control center that was simultaneously experiencing other problems led to a sequence of events that resulted in the largest blackout in the history of the North American electrical power grid. The blackout investigation revealed deficiencies in operator training, particularly as it related to recognizing deteriorating conditions and taking effective actions in response. Loss of situational awareness by power system dispatchers was featured as one of the root causes.

Learn more about the August 2003 blackout.

Alarm summary diagram
The alarm summary shows current and unacknowledged
alarms on the system, such as breaker trips, voltage limit
violations, overloaded equipment or bad telemetry.
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Pioneering training simulators for the classroom

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory was asked to conduct simulator training with skilled operators to determine their success in recognizing conditions that may have occurred in the grid but with degraded operation of the tools used to alert the operator of these conditions, e.g., failure of the alarm processor. The first challenge was finding a power system training simulator that could accommodate this training scenario. We found there were no commercial simulators available at that time that had ever been configured to operate in this mode. Working with one of the vendors, we were able to configure the training simulator to solve the network equations separately from the system that presented information to the student, and thus simulate a failure in the alarm processor or other key subsystems. Another training objective was assessing the ability of power system operators to recognize whether the integrity of their system had been breached. Each training session simulated a normal shift by including routine activities, periods of inactivity and other distractions.

This work provides a vision for future training environments that will incorporate hands-on training with a dispatcher training simulator in a realistic environment to train operators to recognize and respond to cyber security issues associated with their control systems.

For more information on using situational awareness in grid operator training, see Jeff Dagle's article "Using Bad Data to Train Good Grid Dispatchers" in Electric Light & Power.

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