Despite having their own unique sets of skills and experiences, the control engineers of Hedcor's new National Operations Control Center (NOCC) are all equally on a learning curve, having been given the huge responsibility of operating a control center that is the first of its kind in the Philippine power generation sector.
"Every plant and unit of our assets are unique and I find it difficult to commit to memory all of their intricacies and quirks when it comes to operation," shared NOCC Engineer King Joshua Arzadon. "Nonetheless, my colleagues continuously guide me through such and I, definitely, will learn all of those by heart through time and experience."
King placed second in the September 2022 Registered Electrical Engineer Licensure Examination. Like most of his colleagues at the control center, being an NOCC Engineer is his first job.
"We oversee the efficient operation and dispatch of all generation assets to secure maximum energy generation and minimize resource losses while keeping up with regulatory compliance and requirements," he explained. "Centralized and continual monitoring of the plants allows better management of resources leading to higher generation and faster communication of detected plant anomalies."
Centralization of controls and data
Inaugurated in August 2022, the NOCC allows for the remote operation, monitoring, and controlling of 21 Hedcor run-of-river hydropower facilities in Luzon and Mindanao, as well as one solar farm in the Visayas, all in one location.
Despite most of the plants being in faraway, mountainous areas — the farthest of which is 1,181 kilometers away — observing and controlling them is now possible just with the clicks of a mouse and some keyboard strokes. Data from all assets are also centralized, making it easier to consolidate such for regulatory requirements asked by government bodies.
"Centralization of controls and the data coming from the plants is a real game changer in Hedcor's operations. It streamlined operations and monitoring of Hedcor's plants across the Philippines and opened up avenues to incorporate improvements such as data analytics, data science, and even artificial intelligence in our operations," said NOCC Engineer Jezreel John Sannadan, who finished eight in the August 2021 Mechanical Engineer Licensure Examination.
"Operation of a plant, coordination of its activities, along with numerous regulatory requirements can already get your hands full. Imagine multiplying that by more than 20 times," remarked NOCC Engineer Nathaniel Beaver Mendoza, who placed first in the August 2021 Mechanical Engineer Licensure Examination. "We are the first to implement this kind of system in the Philippines so it's a daily experiment for us to see if we are effective or not. Though our system is new, we are constantly learning and growing with it."
Months into the job, Jezreel realized that simultaneously operating many plants of different characteristics "requires excellent multi-tasking skills, great attention to detail, and the ability to make quick but correct decisions especially in critical situations."
The young NOCC Engineers also shared how they see the potential significance of the NOCC in being an enhancer to the growth and development of Philippine society.
"The NOCC can lessen the complicated operation and disordered communication within its regulated ecosystem, helping companies maximize generation, as well as lessen downtime and losses of its power plants. This can help bring us out of the concurrent issue of energy supply struggling to keep up with demand," shared NOCC Engineer Rhyan Jason Delizo, who ranked ninth in the September 2021 Registered Electrical Engineer Licensure Examination.
"Energy is one of the major factors in the development of a society. It may leapfrog or stunt the economy by stopping business operations with power outages," Nathaniel added. "With systems like the NOCC, generation companies can run a power plant with lower costs. Mostly, it would just be a matter of plugging it in and adding another screen at the NOCC."
Kaizen, or continuous improvement
Rounding up the NOCC team, which is mostly made up of young professionals who are new in the industry, are young veterans, namely, NOCC Engineers Dwight Oide and Arnold John De Leon.
"Working abroad prior to working at Hedcor helped me gain insights into company practices, management styles, and decision-making processes," Dwight said. "For example, Japanese business culture emphasizes continuous improvement, known as 'Kaizen.' Having this kind of mindset as an NOCC engineer encourages me to seek ways to take a proactive approach to personal and professional development."
Kaizen adheres to the values of making the work environment more efficient, team-oriented, fulfilling, and safe. It treats improvement as a gradual day-to-day process that involves the participation of each individual team member to combine for a bigger and better impact.
"I have gained from my previous employment valuable experience in hydro construction, electromechanical installations, and solar installations. I have also obtained a deep understanding of the equipment used in various parts of the energy system, including power generation, transmission, and distribution," Arnold elaborated. "This understanding allows me to effectively assist maintenance and support teams to proactively identify and resolve issues that may arise."
The NOCC Engineers identified several challenges faced by the NOCC, including connection losses resulting from severe tropical storms, the challenging geography of the plants, and even the hiccups brought on by the transition from analog systems into digital ones.
"Digital transformation can be challenging, but with proper training and adaptability, we can harness these technologies to optimize plant operations at NOCC," said NOCC Engineer Jayshey Baguidudol, who placed third in the August 2021 Mechanical Engineer Licensure Examination.
Still, the NOCC Engineers are also aided by multiple backup systems and other engineering methods made possible by supporting information technology (IT) and maintenance teams.
With the important task entrusted to them, the NOCC Engineers are aware of how they are playing a role in pioneering digital transformation in the renewable energy sector.
"The NOCC sets the path for upcoming developments in the energy sector by encouraging the adoption of new practices and technologies through the use of sophisticated monitoring systems and data analytics. This promotes collaboration in innovative research and development," Dwight pondered.
"It is an aggregation of the advancements and technologies of the 21st century. As such, it is a testament to how Hedcor is equipped to transform energy that can cater to society's demands whilst upholding sustainability and good resource management," King added.
"In line with the Aboitiz Group's vision of becoming the Philippines' first Techglomerate, Hedcor rallies around a shared goal of pioneering the NOCC in the country to promote digital transformation, productive use of technology, and further the nation's economic growth and development," said Hedcor President and Chief Operating Officer Rolando Pacquiao. "The success of this world-class facility is driven by the collective talents, skills, and dedication of our Engineers, as well as Hedcor team members as a whole."