Automation Energizes Navy

September 30, 1998

RICHLAND, Wash. -- In an age of diminishing budgets, the U.S. Navy is searching for ways to provide more reliable power at its utility plants without increasing costs.

Researchers at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory are providing a solution by implementing an automated computer system that will operate naval plants. Already, at some San Diego-area naval bases, Pacific Northwest engineers have improved cost efficiency drastically by automating monitoring systems and updating equipment. Researchers provided engineering, system installation, follow-up assistance and training.

Pacific Northwest is six years into its contract to update and improve operations at San Diego-area plants for the Navy Public Works Center. The center operates utility plants -- including chilled water, electricity, high temperature hot water and steam -- at 12 naval complexes around San Diego. Pacific Northwest has automated systems at four plants.

The center attributes nearly $800,000 in annual savings to improvements and changes made by Pacific Northwest engineers. The annual savings include about $250,000 at the Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, $370,000 at the Defense MegaCenter North Island and $178, 000 at the Submarine Base Point. The Naval Hospital San Diego has experienced substantial improvements in reliability and operations.

"We've been applying appropriate technologies to run the plants at the highest reliability and the lowest cost," said David M. Carroll, Pacific Northwest program manager. The program is supported by DOE's Federal Energy Management Program.

Workers who previously watched the systems for problems now rely on the computer system to page them when a problem occurs. For those late-night service problems, the foreman is paged. He or she can log onto a personal computer at home and access the plant's computer to identify the problem.

The computer system is easy to use. The program displays a diagram of each plant's operating equipment, such as boilers and pumps, on the monitor. It also indicates parameters such as the pressure of the steam, the water level and temperature. Where there's a problem, the item is displayed in red. The operator can identify the problem easily, then stop or start pumps, change temperature or alter pressure as needed from any connected computer in the world.

Pacific Northwest and the Public Works Center also have improved the reliability of an emergency electrical system at the Naval Hospital in San Diego. The hospital's system previously took as long as 57 seconds to regain power once an outage occurred -- too long for safety needs, Carroll said. Pacific Northwest computer scientists replaced old controls on the diesel emergency backup generators and the gas turbine generators with computer-based control systems.

"We can routinely get backup power to the hospital in eight to 10 seconds now," Carroll said.

Pacific Northwest also upgraded systems at the San Diego-based Defense MegaCenter, the core of satellite and telecommunication networks for military bases around the world. The old system proved unreliable and expensive. Pacific Northwest computer scientists recently automated the center's energy management and control systems, along with other upgrades.

Pacific Northwest also is pursuing contracts with Navy bases in Washington state and Japan.

Pacific Northwest is one of DOE's nine multiprogram national laboratories and conducts research in the fields of environment, energy, health sciences and national security. Battelle, based in Columbus, Ohio, has operated Pacific Northwest for DOE since 1965.

DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

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