Biomass plant at heart of infrastructure breakthrough

A Californian biomass plant is at the heart of the launch of the ‘first’ software-defined network for critical infrastructure.

Dispersive Technologies new Internet-based, software-defined network for use by California’s energy grid operator to connect entities using real-time devices to the grid’s energy management system, has now gone live.

Humboldt Redwood Company’s 28.8 megawatt biomass plant was the first to be brought online with the network. The facility generates steam and electricity by burning approximately 250,000 bone-dry tons of wood waste from the company’s sawmill and planer mill in Scotia, California.

"HRC is pleased to be the first California plant using this network," said Jim Pelkey, Humboldt Redwood Company's Chief Financial Officer, in a statement. "When making the choice, we were especially impressed with the minimal ramp-up time and extensive security measures. Additionally, the support provided by Dispersive Technologies team was excellent."

Dispersive Technologies will operate the new network, which the California Independent System Operator (ISO) will use to connect capacity generation assets to its control system.  

"Most network services used to securely transport SCADA data depend on technologies almost 20 years old," said Richard E. Harrison, president and CEO of Dispersive Technologies. "They're slow to deploy, costly to operate, limited in their flexibility to support diverse user groups, and challenging to scale. As a result, these traditional private networks and VPNs no longer represent best practices for protecting data-in-motion.

“Dispersive CISDN (Critical Infrastructure Software-Defined Network) addresses those problems. It offers various parties – regional balancing authorities, utilities, independent power producers, and service companies supporting the power industry – the ability to establish secure virtual network connections to any resource by using any available local Internet access."

Christian Arechavaleta, systems integration engineer for Pacific Power Engineers, a Dispersive Technologies' partner which helped install the network, anticipates more power plants will eventually convert to Dispersive CISDN.

“Because Dispersive's CISDN requires only a standard broadband connection to the public Internet," Arechavaleta explained, "it's much easier and less expensive to install than other networks. A utility or cogeneration plant can deploy it in days rather than weeks. And the network's integrated firewall protects field assets and assures highly secure communications."

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