Monitoring landfills from afar with SCADA

SCADA - Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition. That sounds like something out of a NASA acronyms manual, but it’s actually more down to earth than that.

If you say that you have SCADA, it just means that you’ve got a computerized system that lets you know what is going on at a distant location and gives you a way to control any attached devices without having to be there in person.

It’s much like a complex version of a burglar alarm system for your home. It’s password protected and personalized. You might get an alert when something is wrong or a special phone number may be dialed automatically if certain things are detected. The difference is that the amount of devices (like pumps, valves, gates, lights, motors, heaters, etc.) that can be controlled and monitored is much, much greater than a relatively simple burglar alarm.

This can be very useful when you have equipment that you need to monitor at places that are not close to one another. Very complex remote systems can be SCADA connected and managed in a central location, which is much more convenient.

What’s happening at that landfill far, far away?

Many landfill sites have equipment installed that must operate around-the-clock, but the sites are usually not very close to one another or the central office. It is handy to have remote access to the devices from a central system so that they can be checked easily and regularly.

The computer screen shown here illustrates how a typical SCADA dashboard might look. Some items are live (meaning you can click on them and cause something to happen somewhere else) while others are for information only, showing a flow rate or water level perhaps.

Typical landfill SCADA screen - Halton

SCADA allows the status of multiple devices to be “seen” at a glance and controlled from afar.

In Halton Region there is one operating landfill and ten closed landfill sites that are maintained and monitored by Halton. The sites are scattered around the four Local Municipalities: BurlingtonHalton HillsMilton, and Oakville.

Currently, Halton Region has leachate pump stations operating at four of its landfills. As of 2012, all four sites have SCADA access. This means that our landfill supervisors, maintenance and on-call staff all have the ability to remotely control and monitor the status of these pump stations and view or acknowledge alarms before deciding to visit a remote site in person. With stations in Burlington, Georgetown, Milton, and Oakville, the toll of commuting to these spread-out locations for troubleshooting can really add up.

Our history of remote monitoring at landfills

Over the years, Halton Region has been adding remote monitoring systems to its landfill sites. In the early days, telephone line based systems were used to trigger an alarm dialer that would call a preset phone number in the event of an alarm for anything from a high water level in a pump station to a critical pump failure.

Eventually wireless systems and radio transmitter technology made way for private networks and the internet based systems used today. These allowed ever-larger amounts of data to flow back and forth from the increasingly complex systems to the central servers housed remotely off site. The abilities to remotely monitor, track, log and control equipment and data became desirable and was seen as the way of the future.

Many of Halton’s water and wastewater treatment plants and pump stations were early adopters of SCADA because it allowed staff to automate plants that were often filled with numerous pumps, actuated valves, level transmitters, and flow meters — all needing to work in concert with one another. With that expertise in-house, it was a logical step to begin adding SCADA to Halton’s landfill infrastructure as well.

Benefits of having SCADA

Using SCADA information can save time and increase our ability to safe-guard the environment. For example, earlier actions can be taken while en-route to a problem site since we can already be aware of “what to do” before we get there. The ability to view the performance history of a device can aid in maintenance planning as well. At some sites, the monitoring of leachate haulage contracts is also made possible through our SCADA systems. In fact, the ability to collect data so readily has increased environmental reporting efficiency and simplified record keeping.

The peace of mind that SCADA can provide our landfill management staff is without question. It is no replacement for direct human observation of certain systems, but the more mundane record keeping tasks are best handled by computerized sensors that can log information 24/7. SCADA provides waste management staff access to plenty of data with which to make educated decisions while giving them the power to control infrastructure at multiple devices and locations without visiting each site in person.

Simply put, by having SCADA at our landfills, the way of the future is now our way too.

About Walter Scattolon

Hi! I'm Walter and I've been Halton Region's Landfill Technologist since 2004. Keeping tabs on Halton's only open municipal landfill is a big part of my job and so is managing the Landfill Gas Collection system on site. How much space do we have left for waste? What about the greenhouse gases? When should we build the next cell in the landfill? - These are all questions I find the answers to, year after year.
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3 Responses to Monitoring landfills from afar with SCADA

  1. Syed Hasan says:

    Excellent article on SCADA. Easy to understand and an innovative use of technology.

    • Thank you Syed for the compliments. Just imagine what level of SCADA the Mars Curiosity expedition is using right now to keep the people at NASA in control of that amazing wheeled robot and receiving the data it sends back! Now THAT is out of this world.

  2. Maya Jordan says:

    Landfill sites can be easily monitored with the help of SCADA systems. By using wireless SCADA systems effectively, industries can monitor and access their remote processes.

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