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Sunday, June 24, 2012

BHP-automated as it was then, and endured as it is now

This is a reproduction of my article from the inaugural release of the Druk Green Newsletter.

Thanks to the good and standing relationship between the Royal Government of Bhutan and the Government of the Republic of Austria for giving birth to the Basochhu Hydropower Plant - as DGPC calls it today. Not only did it add another 64 Mega Watts to the country’s power chart then, but it also, to this day, stands as an archetypical icon of the state-of-the-art technology in Bhutan. Added to this, it is also by far, the only plant in the country to have ever been managed, operated and maintained completely by a team of young Bhutanese novices then, right from the first day of its commercial operation - that was almost a decade back. Working in such a set-up, makes us more than apprehensive for the fear of losing the status quo of a good system.

The hydropower scheme as you may call it, the two sister plants of BHP; Upper Stage and Lower Stage are both automated alike, and to their designed extent, obediently responds to a single click of a mouse. It also responds abruptly to the actions of a living mouse.

So long as the system is in track, the people working in operation and maintenance in particular are mostly happy and have little or absolutely nothing to worry about, to say the least. People come to their duty stations smartly dressed with their TigerSteel safety shoes shining at its best, for which it has become the envy of our colleagues in other plants. An activity that calls for scores of workforce in a conventional plant is, however effectively achieved by a mere tapping of the operator’s forefinger on the mouse. Needless to say, but automation can do wonders- not the mouse though. As a case in point, there goes off the deafening noise of the disgorging water followed by the roaring of the turbine-generator set, as loud as it can, which is just but seconds after the silent click of a start button. Many a time, we find difficulty in holding back our giggles when the sudden noise and the ghostly operations make our serious guests frightened and taken aback.
In the recent time, BHP has however, successfully unmanned the Upper Stage plant and the 220/66 kV Switchyard, which we cannot just hide but rather take pride in our achievement. Thanks to the stringent PLIS target, it was so arduous a task yet fulfilling at the end. Today the Basochhu and the Rurichhu intakes, the Upper Stage, the 66 kV Upper Stage switchyard, the pondage, the 220/66 KV Switchyard and the Lower Stage is all at the command and will of one operator stationed with few others at the control room of Lower Stage. Lower Stage control room serves as our central control station for BHP’s entire electro-mechanical installations. MicroSCADA is our gateway and a platform through which we see and control things that are miles apart. No matter how far the intakes are – it is almost a day’s walk from the plant, but it is hardly inches spaced out in the window of our workstation.

To those who have just joined BHP, alpha-counter(not meant for counting the first letter of the Greek alphabet), echo-killers(nothing to do with either the sound or the brutality), contrans ( not the crunchy korntroos chips), bamboo ( tallest grass it is definitely not), matrix (not the sci-fi movie), RTU(not an acronym for Ready To Use), frontend (the end in the front?), etc are some of the technical jargons that they will often get to hear. In fact, these are the must-have components in an automated system like BHP, which unfortunately, often seize to function and if not remedied right away, makes any operation of the intakes’ components a day’s work, almost instantly.

The flipside of the story is however a little disenchanting, if not so more. The common misconception of the people holds it that, those working in an automated plant like BHP have got virtually nothing to do with the chances of breakdown being very minimal. All said and done, yes it is, if all is well. But the famous Murphy’s Law holds true everywhere, anywhere!. It is even so more surprising to learn that many of us in the DGPC think in a parallel fashion.
Bill Gates has rightly pointed out, as “The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency”.

With hundreds of surge vulnerable components and bundles of wire criss-crossing the plant structures, it is just at the mercy of the rodents scurrying everywhere and the sudden spike in electro-static energy. Rectifying the control circuitry and modifying the logics to meet our requirement has always been a brain-racking process. Come the monsoon, there starts another hitch in the turbine-generator set. Much to the dismay, an array of exigencies follows next - misfortunes do not come singly. It is very hard an ordeal.

Despite the seemingly idle atmosphere at BHP, it is of the essence to note that, every individual takes his or her share of the effort in ensuring that the system is up and running at all times. Endurance of the technological set-up for so long has never been so easy and we consider it as the biggest thing in itself.
Whatsoever it is, we can only do our best, to sustain and endure as the way it is. Be that as it may, we are all doing for one single most cause – to contribute to the nation.

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