A New Vision for Distribution’s Future

By Steven M. Brown, Senior Associate Editor

The North American power distribution system performs admirably, supplying power to customers with 99.99 percent reliability. It’s a remarkable statistic when one considers the inherent frailty of a network of wires supported by wood poles and strung from open-air substations to pole-top transformers, all of which is continuously subjected to the worst nature has to offer.

One consortium of utilities, however, believes that with the proper application of equipment and technology, the existing distribution system—at least in select pockets—is capable of far greater reliability.

Distribution Vision 2010 LLC (DV2010) can trace its roots back to 2000 when Charlie Cole, then the new vice president of distribution at We Energies, came to Bob Huber, We Energies’ senior manager of research and development, with two questions: “What can we do to improve system reliability?” and “If you were going to start over, what would the distribution system of the future look like?”

While some may have considered the questions to be purely academic, Huber regarded them as a serious challenge and set about defining a vision for power distribution’s future.

It soon became evident that this vision would be too far-reaching to tackle alone.

Forming a Vision—and a Consortium

Huber and his We Energies team, which included senior engineer Russ Fanning, began examining their own distribution system, along with industry-wide distribution automation trends, with a focus on improving reliability from the customer’s perspective.

They found that distribution automation wasn’t as far along as many perceive it to be.

“We have feeder automation, substation automation and good efforts being made with outage management systems,” Fanning said. “The problem is they aren’t all being tied together. Automation hasn’t moved into an integrated form.”

One goal the We Energies team defined, then, was to tie feeder automation, substation automation and dynamic voltage control into an integrated scheme. In conjunction with that, the team began working with the idea of delivering highly reliable power via a primary voltage network. Fanning outlined the concept in a paper he delivered this past January at the DistribuTECH 2004 Conference and Exhibition.

“We thought that with today’s microprocessor-based IEDs, telecommunication interfaces and advanced protection algorithms, we could implement the primary voltage network design to provide a premium power service to our customers,” Fanning stated in his paper. “We believed we could create and operate primary voltage networks that are not limited to only two sources. Three, four and five line networks from multiple sources could be created.”

The concept that allowed the We Energies team to arrive at this hopeful design was one Fanning developed in 1999: The POD (premium operating district) design defines portions of a distribution feeder that can be completely isolated by opening automated switching devices. A POD is that part of a circuit that can be isolated via automation. The POD concept shows that with adequate automation, the perceived reliability at a customer’s site can be equivalent to a feeder no bigger than the POD itself.

The idea is to give customers in premium operating districts new, reasonable cost options that will provide them with the reliability equivalent of a two-line feed without requiring them to pay for a line extension, dedicated reserve and auto-transfer equipment.

“There were lots of reasons we couldn’t do all this,” Fanning said. “So, we sat down and worked through those issues. Very quickly, we realized we weren’t going to get there alone. We were looking at a big change in the way a distribution system operates.”

It was at this point that We Energies brought in help. Cooper Power Systems, a Wisconsin-based neighbor of We Energies, came in to discuss Huber and Fanning’s ideas and began enhancing certain of their products to incorporate into the primary network concept. The team also brought in other utilities to share ideas, validate concepts and show that We Energies’ system design could work in diverse locales.

DV2010 was born. Currently, the consortium has six member utilities: We Energies, American Electric Power, Public Service Electric & Gas, Alliant Energy, BC Hydro and Oklahoma Gas & Electric, and has contracts with three technology developers and one university. Fanning said he hopes this group eventually grows to include 12 to 15 utility members.

The overarching DV2010 philosophy is that a step function improvement in customer reliability can be achieved through the use of improved technology in communication, distributed intelligence, distribution hardware and software. According to Bob Huber, chairman of DV2010, “New technology is only an idea until it is made real, manufactured and commercially available. The path to commercialization can be loaded with costly delays, uncertainty and risk. Collaborative arrangements, such as the Distribution Vision 2010 LLC, offer significant advantages in this regard. The costs, uncertainty and risk can be shared.

“A technology developer working to commercialize a product should be comfortable working with a collaborative,” Huber continued. “If the collaborative is structured so it is a win-win arrangement, then everyone stands to benefit. The collaborative members represent a potential market to the developer as well as serve as a cross section of the industry and a focus group of sorts to guide the developer’s efforts.”

DV2010 has contracted Cooper Power to act as project manager to coordinate development efforts. “Our end goal is to implement technologies that will minimize impact on the customer,” said Richard Marking-Camuto, manager of Cooper Power’s systems integration group. “There are still a lot of distribution systems that lack any kind of automation. Consequently, when problems occur, customers served by those systems have a long wait time before power is restored.”

The Project at New Berlin

DV2010’s vision is being put into action in two pilot projects: one at BC Hydro and one nearing completion at We Energies.

We Energies is building the first pilot project for the DV2010 primary network at a 640-acre industrial park with approximately 300 tenants in New Berlin, Wis. The project is scheduled for completion later this year.

When completed, the system at New Berlin promises to deliver less than one minute of qualified outages to individual customers in a year, or 99.9998 percent available service. Notable is the fact that this improved reliability will be delivered over the distribution infrastructure already in place.

“We knew we weren’t going to be doing this in a greenfield,” Fanning said. “The DV2010 idea was that we would have to develop technology that is applicable over existing infrastructure. Otherwise, it’s not affordable.”

Phase I of the project at New Berlin consists of three feeders, arranged as a network at the primary voltage, served from two bus sections. The ultra-high reliability is achieved by dividing the park into five PODs, each bounded by automation equipment. Through the use of high-speed communications and automated equipment, Fanning said any POD can be isolated in three to five cycles, effectively containing a fault and maintaining continuous service to all customers outside the POD that experiences the fault. We Energies will expand the system to a five feeder integrated network with nine PODs, served from three bus sections during Phase II.

The New Berlin pilot project employs four tiers of automation. Tier 1 uses SEL-351 relays from Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories in the substation and Cooper Power Form 6 reclosers on the poles. Protection logic at this tier operates without the need for telecommunication functionality to those intelligent electronic devices (IEDs), making Tier 1 the “safety net” of the DV2010 primary network.

At Tier 2, high-speed communications are built-in to allow information sharing between all IEDs for fast fault identification and isolation (within three to five cycles) using Cooper Power System’s PeerComm technology. Tier 3 employs NovaTech’s DAMaster device, which acts as a feeder automation processor and data concentrator for field devices outside the substation while also integrating the substation IED’s into the same overall DA process. At Tier 4, a real-time distribution state estimator gathers near real-time data from the Tier 3 controller and applies that data to an accurate live system model to confirm that all conditions are within an acceptable range or to determine appropriate corrective measures which may include dynamic voltage regulation or system reconfiguration. Corrections are executed through the Tier 3 controller. The Tier 4 controller is based on CES International’s Energy Delivery Management (EDM) system.

While the New Berlin pilot will employ all four automation tiers, Fanning noted that each of the four can be used with or without the other tiers in place—depending on the reliability demands of customers on the network.

Fanning said the New Berlin park is initially being divided into five PODs (as an R&D project at the utility’s expense), but that these PODs may eventually be sub-divided into a greater number of smaller PODs at the request (and expense) of individual customers who demand even higher reliability than what the five-POD system can deliver.

“If the customer wants greater reliability, he has the option of installing more automation equipment to divide his POD into smaller areas,” Fanning said. “The reliability of the POD is directly related to the POD’s size.

“Ultimately, if the customer puts in pad-mounted gear to serve just his plant, he can isolate himself into his own POD and give himself, practically, 100 percent reliability.”

Doing Better with Less

The DV2010 philosophy, then, is not only to improve reliability and define distribution’s future, but to do so in an economically feasible way. Fanning and other DV2010 principals realize that due to the need to direct investment dollars into both transmission and generation needs, the distribution industry has been focused on doing more with less.

“The trend of doing more with less isn’t going to change,” Fanning said. “We have to take the dollars available and apply them strategically to accomplish our goals. Through DV2010, we’re figuring out how to do ‘better with less.'”

That’s why projects like the one at New Berlin will strive to improve the reliability of existing infrastructure through the application of improved automation and communications technology and better utilization of the intelligence gathered via these systems.

“Software and communications are the key,” said Steve Early, an engineer at AEP and DV2010’s secretary. “It is one thing to have sensors and intelligent devices widely deployed on the distribution system, but the challenge will be to turn the data from these devices into actionable information for system operators or to automatically reconfigure the system to address operating conditions.”

Fanning agrees that telecommunications is key to improving reliability. He’s intrigued by the possibilities of using power line communication (PLC) to enhance the capabilities of line devices that have previously been considered “dumb” devices.

“Line devices are going to become smarter,” Fanning said. “They’re going to be able to recognize conditions that they weren’t able to before.

“My vision, whether it happens by 2010 or not, is that we’ll reach a point with narrowband PLC where we can integrate communications devices right into the line devices we’re installing. If the devices can communicate and deliver information right over the wires, we’re moving toward plug-and-play distribution automation.”

For more information about DV2010, or to inquire about membership, contact Bob Huber, DV2010 chairman, robert.huber@we-energies.com.

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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com.

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