4 Biggest SCADA Cost Drivers

PostedTuesday, May 23, 2017 at 8:30 AM

4 Biggest SCADA Cost Drivers

SCADA has a lot of moving parts and add-ons, which is why the implementation cost varies greatly from project to project. But no matter what industry or environment, everyone is always looking to cut unnecessary costs.

There are several factors that influence cost: the number of tags or points in your SCADA system, the number of clients that want to simultaneously view the system, amount of resiliency needed, amount of labor it takes to design and integrate, and ultimately which SCADA software you choose.

By understanding the biggest SCADA cost drivers, you should be able to get a better grasp on why SCADA costs what it does, and maybe even make some money-saving decisions up front.

Cost driver #1: Materials and selection of SCADA software

There are a variety of SCADA solution providers out there. Trihedral's VTScada, Schneider-Electric's Wonderware, GE's Cimplicity, and Tatsoft's FactoryStudio to name a few. Some SCADA solutions are geared toward large enterprise environments, others toward standalone or single application-type environments.

This means a single waste-to-energy facility should probably select a different SCADA software than a portfolio of utility scale solar farms.

Oftentimes, an owner will select a SCADA system without fully understanding its capabilities or hardware requirements. If half the capabilities aren’t being utilized because the system is small, that owner is essentially wasting money on materials.

For example, an owner may select Wonderware System Platform because it has a great installed base and plenty of system integrators to choose from. They might not realize Wonderware Historian recommends a minimum of two computers, and only supports Microsoft SQL Server licensing.

There are plenty of SCADA solutions that can handle non-enterprise scenarios in a more cost-effective manner. In the above scenario, VTScada or Tatsoft would be a better option, as they run on a very small footprint and come with their own database.

Cost driver #2: Number of concurrent users

In any given environment, multiple stakeholders need visibility into the finished SCADA system, including:

  • Facility partners (consulting engineers, service providers, even systems integrators)
  • Facility managers (property management companies or O&M subcontractors)
  • Owner(s)

The more concurrent users, the more expensive the SCADA system. The trick is to clearly state the exact number of simultaneous stakeholders at the beginning of the project. Your system integrator will recommend a SCADA software that minimizes the cost of concurrent users.

Some SCADA software provides unlimited licenses, or doesn’t charge per concurrent user. Instead, they know their system only supports as many users as the processors and memory can handle.

Depending on your SCADA system, more users may represent additional hardware cost. If your SCADA system’s software must be installed on a computer (instead of viewed within a web browser), you will probably have to install additional SCADA view node workstations for each user.

Cost driver #3: Redundancy

Most well-architected systems do not put SCADA in the critical path of facility control functions. As a supervisory system, controls such as PLCs, DCSs, or ASCs can continue to operate even after total SCADA failure. That means SCADA redundancy isn’t a high priority for many environments.

However, redundancy becomes crucial should you need to make adjustments to the controls system after SCADA becomes unavailable. If you don’t have a local touchscreen or panel to change set points associated with certain equipment, this places a level of criticalness on your SCADA system.

For facilities not regularly manned, redundancy is especially vital. Time required to diagnose, remedy, and bring a system back online could seriously be impacted based on personnel availability and time required to mobilize personnel to the facility.

Redundancy is a significant cost driver due to additional licensing required for separate hardware running the backup system. That is, unless your SCADA OEM gives you a break on licensing due to the secondary system’s lack of use until primary failure. In general, you can count on doubling computer/server costs for a redundant SCADA system.

Determining the downtime you can withstand before putting your mission critical facility at risk helps establish the level of redundancy your system requires.

Cost driver #4: Number of points

The number of points you monitor or control is greatly influenced by the amount of equipment and instruments within your control system. Some devices (e.g., metering, protective relays, IEDs) have an overwhelming number of points, but not all help an operator run the facility.

Our experience has shown us that when we turn systems over to owners, owners use far fewer points than their engineers specified.

For example, an electric meter may provide phase readings for real power, reactive power, and apparent power along with a host of other data points. These points may be important when troubleshooting an electrical problem, but on a daily O&M basis they provide zero additional benefits to an operator. That means they don’t need to be part of the SCADA system. When necessary, they can be accessed on demand using the device’s proprietary software.

For cost-savings (and your own sanity), don’t over-specify. Make sure you capture only points required to operate and maintain your facility.

It’s important to note that some SCADA software solutions do not charge based on the number of points. Depending on the size of your system, this may be advantageous but does not always mean it is the most economical. Some SCADA solutions cater to very small point counts and have a lower price tag than unlimited tag systems.

An economical SCADA solution

It should be obvious to you by now that the more robust your SCADA system, the more you should expect to pay for it. But not every facility needs all features or add-ons.

After reading through this cheat sheet of high cost variables, you should be able to talk through the unnecessary aspects with your systems integrator and minimize pointless costs. The best SCADA system is the one that balances an economical approach with helpful facility controls and data monitoring.


Allan Evora is President of Affinity Energy with over 20 years of industry experience working in every capacity of the power automation project life cycle. Allan established Affinity Energy in 2002, and is qualified as a Certified Measurement & Verification Professional (CMVP). Learn more about Affinity Energy to see how they can help with your next power and energy integration project.

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Allan Evora President, Executive Management Affinity Energy Charlotte, NC
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