LIGHTSTONE GENERATION ENSURES STEADY ELECTRIC POWER PLANT OPERATIONS IN THE MIDWEST
Lightstone Generation owns and runs four geographically dispersed electric power plants in the U.S., totaling 5,200 megawatts of generation. Its staff plant operators needed to be able to remotely start and stop the power plants to keep operations humming.
To ensure remote starts happened on time, Lightstone Generation implemented Cradlepoint’s NetCloud Service for IoT, delivered through LTE routers and including cloud management as well as SD-Perimeter technology for device-to-cloud IoT security. Now plant operators can securely and remotely start power plant operations from anywhere.
Lightstone is a private equity firm that acquired the four electric power plants scattered from Ohio to Indiana — Waterford Power LLC, Darby Power LLC, Lawrenceburg Power LLC, and Gavin Power LLC. The company generates and sells electric power for the Ohio deregulated market, and the plants are dispatched over the PJM Interconnect — the organization that coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity.
Lightstone originally purchased Cradlepoint solutions because the organization needed to remotely manage the Darby plant. The plant operators needed the ability to securely start the Darby units from work-provided devices anywhere and anytime — even during off-shift hours. A simple-cycle gas power plant makes its money by being able to be immediately started when called on, and it was imperative to be able to remotely start the units.
“We have never missed a remote start opportunity since the system was installed and have performed this remote start function numerous times, and it always works, making the solution a money maker for the Darby plant,” said Kevin Gardner, principal coordinator for Lightstone.
To enable this remote start process, the generators at each plant required LTE functionality for failover and in some cases primary connectivity. Lightstone also needed the ability to create a secure network for IoT routers as well as the plant operators and their devices. This network had to be simple and fast to set up.
The organization’s remote management system also needed to comply with North American Electric Reliability (NERC) security standards. These standards are designed to secure the assets required for operating North America’s electric system. Because of these compliance standards, it’s essential for Lightstone to protect its remote start capabilities from the outside world.
To solve Lightstone’s remote start issues, it chose Cradlepoint’s NetCloud Service for IoT, which includes edge computing, SD-Perimeter technology for device-to-cloud security, and cloud configuration and troubleshooting, all delivered via an IoT gateway with embedded LTE, 24x7 support, and a limited lifetime warranty.
“We essentially had no solution until we got Cradlepoint,” Gardner said. “Now, we can ensure plant operations run smoothly and efficiently because of the Cradlepoint solutions.”
The company deployed Cradlepoint services at the Waterford and Darby locations, with generators connected on the LAN behind Cradlepoint routers at each site.
Lightstone leverages Cradlepoint’s NetCloud Perimeter feature — rooted in SD-Perimeter technology — to securely connect routers and IoT devices to a perimeter-secured overlay network. These private networks can be set up in just minutes, using a private IP space to hide information from potential hackers.
Lightstone runs NetCloud Perimeter on its Cradlepoint IoT routers, called NCP Gateways, as well as on field technicians’ cellphones and tablets.
SOFTWARE-DEFINED IoT SECURITY
With NetCloud Perimeter running on work-provided devices such as cell phones and tablets, operators can securely access files and applications and remotely start all Darby units.
“We’ve never had a solution that would allow a tablet or smartphone to securely perform unit startups of a gas-fired power plant. This is a very innovative application," Gardner said.
Timing is an important part of the startup process of each unit. The on-call operator can log on to his or her work device from home, utilize perimeter-secured overlay functionality, and access the Darby remote screen quickly.
“The whole process takes about two minutes,” Gardner said.
RELIABLE LTE CONNECTIVITY FOR PRIMARY & FAILOVER
Reliability and availability also were critical components of the organizations network needs.
“If operators were to miss a remote start opportunity of a unit, it would impact the profit margin for the entire year,” Gardner said.
At the Waterford plant, Cradlepoint routers provide seamless LTE failover when the primary router loses connectivity. At Darby, LTE serves as the primary WAN link for the generators — creating a Parallel Network, or physically air-gapped network, on-site.
ABILITY TO REMOTELY START PLANTS QUICKLY & SECURELY
The network consists of three components: the Cradlepoint router containing a SIM card for a primary connection, what the Darby plant calls a JUMP PC that can be accessed using mobile devices for the remote start function, and the Darby plant remote start control screen.
With this design, there is a secure connection to the JUMP PC and plant control network.
“The level of security necessary to get to the remote start screen is all provided by Cradlepoint, and is rapidly accessed,” Gardner said.
Once an operator is logged in with a mobile device, the JUMP PC uses remote desktop functionality to jump to the Darby plant remote start control screen. Then, the off-site operator at home will see the same screen on their remote device. The operator has the ability to see all six units and can start them all in just minutes.
As the operator leaves home to go to the plant, it will be started up by the time he gets there.
REMOTE MANAGEMENT THROUGH THE CLOUD
NetCloud Manager gives Lightstone a single-pane-of-glass system for monitoring and managing its LTE-connected IoT routers at each plant from anywhere, reducing IT man-hours and truck rolls. The IT team also can use microsegmentation with simple policies to remotely adjust which parts of its perimeter-secured overlay networks are accessible to each user, device, group, application, and resource.
SUPPORT AND MAINTENANCE
Throughout the deployment process — from installing routers to creating overlay networks — Lightstone’s IT team found Cradlepoint’s solution easy to set up, deploy, and maintain — with little to no troubleshooting.
"The upfront support with deploying Cradlepoint solutions was amazing. So far, this network has required little upkeep,” Gardner said.