Dam Safety Intelligence (DSI), a subsidiary of giant electricity company Meridian Energy is responsible for 12 staff and is the country’s only specialist dam safety consultant. DSI covers the spectrum of dam owners, from very large, like hydro dams (including Meridian’s), to small, and from the old (100 years old), to relatively new (20 years old).
DSI helps to monitor and manage more than 100 dams, serving energy companies, water supply authorities, irrigators, and councils. Internationally, it monitors dams in Fiji and the Philippines and provides dam safety management services to clients in Australia, the United States, Canada, and Sweden.
DSI has grown since their original software was built 30 years ago. They needed a system that was on a modern platform, using modern code and platform components. Other “off the shelf” offshore systems were trialled and assessed, but none had the breadth and depth of functionality needed, or the necessary quality assurance and audibility.
DSI decided to rebuild their Dam Monitoring System (DMS) software with Catalyst, an investment of several million dollars, and several years. The DMS software is the primary tool for data handling, quality assurance, dam performance evaluation and reporting.
The rebuild focused on leveraging the principles and functionality of the legacy system, which was created out of various different modules. It ran on old hardware, using a relational database, in the Progress 4GL language. At the time it was built, screens didn't have a GUI (graphical user interface) so the graphs and plots were necessarily basic, and manual observations were recorded with hand-held data loggers.
The new system is cloud native, using the same sorts of structures as any scalable cloud product – containers, microservice architectures, modern languages, with all the benefits these technologies bring: scalability, redundancy, automated deployments, and efficient use of cloud resources. It’s running in the Catalyst Cloud, and uses Kubernetes, Docker and Python. The interface is browser-based, so it works on smartphones and it also works offline, so engineers in remote locations can log data when they return to areas with internet access.
Dam Safety Intelligence’s general manager Dan Forster says, “a key benefit of our Dam Monitoring System [is] the inherent quality assurance principles that are built into its design. So, what that means is that we have a lot of checks and balances on the data as it progresses through our workflow, so from data coming into the system, being processed, being validated against alert thresholds, being plotted into engineering plots and charts for our team to analyse it, and then for our team to capture their analysis in terms of written content that gets associated with that data, as well as the senior level of review and validation that we apply over that.”
The system is world-class, Forster says, “it means we are monitoring New Zealand’s legacy dam infrastructure with the best tools possible, and it puts us in a unique position internationally to offer that service more widely.”
The system allows DSI to take millions of data points across thousands of measuring points and reduce the readings into engineering measurements, then graph all of that and allow the engineers to make sense of it.
This is a great example of how an expert open source solution can deliver above and beyond any off-the-shelf software and better yet, host it on-shore.