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May 18, 2012

Technology to improve power utility efficiency, safety

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Rifle-Shot Performance Holdings CEO Ian Huntly discusses the challenges faced by the power utility industry. Cameraperson: Nicholas Boyd. Editing: Darlene Creamer.
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Not enough money is being spent on maintaining and rejuvenating equipment at South African power stations and large process plants, which often feature old technology, which, in turn, results in high maintenance and breakdown costs, says targeted consulting and implementation skills provider Rifle-Shot Performance Holdings CEO Ian Huntly.

He advises that, as power becomes more expensive and demand increases across Africa, power utilities, for example, need to use new technologies to their advantage to ensure their assets run efficiently, so that more money can be reinvested into the plant, rather than being spent on breakdowns.

“We have developed a reference architecture model and system that State-owned power utility Eskom uses for its operations management, and safety and electronic permit systems. The system monitors the performance of power stations, provides safe working permits and keeps records of performance data on an electronic database,” explains Huntly.

He says information and procedures recorded on hard copy are open to abuse, while keeping information on an electronic database with workflows and approvals will ensure the information is safe.

The system has a number of functional packages, one of which is an operator-training simulator. Operators can practise issuing permits on a simulated plant that looks like the original working plant.

Further, Huntly says strict control can be implemented on the system to ensure plant personnel comply with safety regulations as well as to ensure plant security and efficiency.

Fingerprint technology is one such safety management technology.

Huntly explains that workers tend to give out passwords for restricted areas to others – a significant safety risk. The fingerprint access technology will ensure that only authorised personnel are allowed to access certain areas in the system, increasing security.

Power plants also have to be kept running 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, which sometimes leads to maintenance becoming a safety issue.
“We have built up a rule base of what can and cannot be done without shutting down the plant. This gives workers an idea of what is expected of them. We isolate the plant and prepare it for maintenance as quickly as possible to decrease the loss of production time, which, in turn, decreases the risk of a negative financial impact,” says Huntly.


Rifle-Shot provides training for its systems and works with power utilities to ensure the systems are correctly set up and that the project teams are able to operate the systems, which are also modified to accommodate process efficiencies.

Huntly says that, although contractors do not operate the system, they do need to be aware of its applications; therefore, training is also provided for active workers.

In some cases, the training can be done by the company’s own training department.

Further, the system enables offline training, which is installed at every site. This allows operators to learn about the system by using it in an offline working state.

Meanwhile, Huntly says the complexity of operating a power station is a challenge. These plants are capital intensive, there is a lot of activity and it is a challenge to gain an integrated view of what happens in all facets of the plants.

The operational performance, maintenance, safety and quality components all work together and there is a lot of pressure on power utilities to ensure that sectors are running smoothly.

“Electricity demand is high and utilities need to deliver more electricity to more people, as well as ensure that supply is efficient.

“For this, power plants need integrated information about what happens on site so that utilities do not waste capacity. Utilities need to invest in new technology to provide power or they face significant pressure and their operating costs increase,” Huntly states.


Rifle-Shot’s system uses a Microsoft database, which is easy to install and deploy across different power plants, and a lot of the system’s components use Microsoft’s technology stack.

The system also integrates to SAP planned maintenance and human resource software that enable operators to manage all aspects and provide a single view for management. The system runs off one database but has many modules and is decentralised so that every operating plant has its own computer on site.

Huntly says major technology developments include improved user interfaces, browser front-ends and artificial intelligence to guide people through operations and simplify tasks.

“The company also uses mobile technology, as many workers in the power generation sector are on site and required to complete several tasks simultaneously. We have hand-held remotes for electronic information capture, including multiple isolations and readings. Other power utilities have approached us for this technology,” he states.

The company is also working on new components and on making improvements to existing system components.

Edited by: Chanel de Bruyn
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