ERCOT, SPP Collaborate to Improve Visualization Tool
In an industry where grid operators often engage in bickering and litigation over their borders, ERCOT and SPP have proven neighbors can also collaborate for the common good.
The grid operators’ in-house developers have worked together to produce version 2.0 of the Macomber Map, a visualization tool for control rooms. Projected on large overhead monitors, the map provides a geographical depiction of the system, including customizable views of power flows, constraints and other core system data that feed into the map and are then pieced together.
“As we collaborate on the software, we’re supporting each other,” said Mike Legatt, ERCOT’s principal “human factors engineer.” Legatt says the Macomber Map improves operators’ decision-making by increasing their situational awareness and simplifying the complexity wrought by integrating renewable resources, changes in market design and faster information flows.
“Our experience … is a great illustration of a new way of thinking, both about the relationships between technology and grid reliability and between independent grid operators like ERCOT and SPP,” said Cody Parker, SPP’s supervisor of operations support. “The adoption rate of users has been tremendous. It’s been clear that the … user-friendliness of the tool, the performance and responsiveness of the tool … those aspects have won over all the operators.”
Seeing the ‘Big Picture’
The system is named in honor of its creator, ERCOT’s Gary Macomber, a human factors engineer who died in August 2008, a few weeks before his first map became a production-level tool.
“Gary was really an incredible guy. He could see the big picture,” Legatt said. “This was the one [project] he was really excited about, because it’s pulling together disparate data from people who gather it. By doing all that work for the operators, it gives them more time and more mental bandwidth to be solving these problems.”
“It’s opened up a whole new visualization framework without having to go through the physical process of drawing things pixel by pixel,” said SPP senior engineer Jeff Parker (no relation to Cody). “We’ve been able to use modern graphics-rendering capabilities built into it, instead of the old style of manually drawing everything.”
Legatt was behind the code for the map’s first version. However, he’s quick to say it’s the control room operators who developed the map.
“It’s all the users — operators, engineers and other groups within our organization — that have really defined how the tool grew and developed into what it is today,” he said.
In 2013, ERCOT released the code to the open source community for adoption by other users, such as governments, utilities and emergency responders who could benefit from improved situational awareness. The code has also been picked up by power-flow engineering students.
That led to version 2.0, which has an improved graphical user interface, among other upgrades.
Legatt credits SPP’s developers and operators for the new features. SPP staff tailored the tool to aggregate and analyze historical and real-time data from their energy management, markets, weather and other systems. The grid operators said SPP’s improvements enable operators to run what-if scenarios to monitor and mitigate congestion and outages.
“They’ve done some incredible work,” Legatt said of SPP. “They are showing things we were already showing, but in a better way. The graphical rendering is much nicer and much faster. It works better in remote-access situations … all thanks to Cody and his team.”
Human Factors Engineering
Cody Parker and his team became interested in Legatt’s work on human performance improvement through mutual industry contacts. Human factors engineering, also known as cognitive ergonomics or user-centered design, combines psychology and engineering.
Parker spent several months talking with Legatt, who has two master’s degrees and a doctorate in clinical health and neuropsychology. He recently defended his thesis in pursuit of a second doctorate from the University of Texas at Austin in energy systems engineering.