What Makes a Grid Smart


Tony DiMarco, Intergraph

What makes a grid smart? Is it AMI? OMS? ADMS? MDM? GIS? CIM? CIP? Acronyms used to describe smart grid have become overwhelming, making it difficult for utilities to understand what they need to build automated, resilient grids that will meet energy needs.

With so many vendors, it’s getting easy for utilities to become disillusioned and think there’s one magic-bullet technology to achieve a smart grid. In reality, a smart grid involves all of the solutions and technologies listed plus more. Most important, it involves careful planning and strategy to make sure all of the technologies implemented can perform as needed and effectively integrate with one another for reliable, secure and efficient operations. Here are some key facets—with acronyms—to consider when implementing an intelligent grid.

Strong GeographicInformation System (GIS)

Like anything else in the world, a smart grid is not smart without data, and not just any data but data that is accessible, understandable and accurate. To develop a grid that effectively can pinpoint and resolve outages and efficiently dispatch crews to the right place at the right time, a utility must have a handle on the nature and location of all assets. The right GIS or network and asset management system is critical for smart grid success. The geospatial visualization of operating data improves situational awareness and speeds decision-making and when properly designed enables the grid analysis that forms the smart grid operations basis.

Common Operating Picture (COP)

Just as the grid is not smart without strong data, data is not strong unless it can be analyzed, interpreted and acted upon easily. When utilities build a smart grid, they should not overlook their operations centers and their effects on grid operators. As more grid components become smart, i.e., capable of producing more data, utilities will require a means of bringing all new data together in an easily understood format so grid operators do not become overwhelmed. When properly designed, the integration of operating data with geospatial information about the grid can improve grid operations visualization and understanding. The result is improved situational awareness for operating personnel, which enables them to operate the grid more reliably and with greater safety and a reduced chance of operating error.

Advanced DistributionManagement System (ADMS)

Integrated power systems analysis as part of an ADMS and combined with a spatial view of the network and field resources provides a powerful environment for operations control of the electrical grid by determining the distribution operating model’s state and predicting the planned changes’ impact. Power systems analysis tools help a utility more easily monitor, analyze and optimize distribution network operations, leading to improved efficiency and reduced outage durations from unplanned incidents.

Outage Management System (OMS)

Prompt power restoration following a storm or other outage is the hallmark of utility customer service. Effective grid operations require fast, automated, outage management procedures.

A successful outage management system pinpoints the cause of trouble and eliminates unnecessary crew dispatches, improving dispatchers’ and field crews’ productivity. In addition, once a dispatcher is ready to assign a crew to a job, an effective OMS can match jobs, priorities, locations, crews, skills and resources to ensure the right crews efficiently go to the right places to restore power as quickly as possible. By monitoring crew assignments and locations, dispatchers can optimize schedules and routes based on job locations and available equipment, saving significant time and money.

After implementing an OMS, utilities—including a major utility in storm-ravaged Florida—have reduced their customer average interruption duration index (CAIDI) to below and better than the industry average. They also have boosted field crew productivity as much as 20 percent.

Supervisory Controland Data Acquisition (SCADA)

SCADA provides the digital information and controls technology fundamental to improving the electric grid’s reliability, security and efficiency. Integrating SCADA with other grid technologies is crucial to achieve real-time monitoring and maximum benefits of a next-generation grid. SCADA provides real-time data on the operating status of the system and the status of self-healing switching devices that represent distributed intelligence across the grid. When selecting information systems technologies for control rooms, utilities should ensure they can integrate with their SCADA systems of choice.

Smart Meters and AdvancedMetering Infrastructure (AMI)

Smart meters and their requisite AMI provide another sensor to monitor the state of the distribution system. While smart meter benefits to reduce meter reading and operations costs are well-documented, using smart meters to enhance information about distribution system status and to provide operational benefits remains new for utilities. Smart meters provide another sensor, just as SCADA provides sensor data about the system. When implementing smart metering projects and AMI, utilities should consider how those technologies can provide further operating benefits by combining them with new or upgraded control room information systems that can take full advantage of the new sensors.

Mobile Work Force Management (MWFM)

Another key smart grid component, and one that closely relates to OMS, is MWFM. For the typical utility, two-thirds of total employees are field-based. This makes field personnel automation and extending critical business applications to remote users a key opportunity for productivity improvement and cost reduction.

Ideally, an MWFM system should combine all necessary applications on one mobile device to support the display of maps in the field, coordinate routing and dispatch tracking, report the status of utility field personnel and allow crews to update key system information from the field. It should provide field crews with the same, current information as the system operator and dispatcher, including complete, detailed maps that display all facility attributes and detailed drawings to support field inspection and updates, as well as vegetation management and damage assessment applications. The delivery and collection of timely, complete field information ensures accurate, up-to-date information and improves operations efficiency and safety.

Service-oriented Architecture (SOA)

Intergraph sees the future of utilities technology encompassing seamless integration, the elimination of boundaries and flexible adaptation to changing circumstances. Some vendors embrace this vision by adopting service-oriented architecture (SOA), widely recognized as the software architecture of the future. It enables a flexible, maintainable system that easily incorporates ongoing changes and new requirements. It fosters effortless integration with new technologies and business partners, as well as with legacy systems, and promotes the reuse and sharing of data and functionality to eliminate redundancy across enterprise systems.

Security and CriticalInfrastructure Protection (CIP)

As electric distribution networks become more connected to the Internet via components including distribution SCADA systems and smart meters, security quickly is becoming a big utility concern. It is not enough to put barbed wire around critical assets. Adequate electric grid security requires a comprehensive mix of physical and cybersecurity to thwart attacks.

Because they are such a critical resource, utility networks are at high risk for attack by terrorists, extortionists and competitors and disgruntled employees. Utilities must be prepared for intentional attacks and potential accidental power supply disruptions because of employee error, natural disasters and equipment failure. In general, utility networks were not built to be resilient to sophisticated attacks. Utilities must take extra measures to protect their networks in the Internet age.

Standards Interoperability, Support

The support of industry and technology standards is key to building a smart grid. When a system meets international standards and evolving smart grid standards, a utility can work with data from multiple systems and have the benefit of interoperability. An open architecture based on industry standards is the foundation for interoperability across disparate data sources, formats and systems and does not limit the vendors with which a utility can work to build its system. As smart grid becomes mainstream, additional interoperability and security standards might evolve from organizations such as those sponsored by the Department of Energy and international standards community. Utilities must ask their smart grid vendors which standards they adhere to now and which they are monitoring and evaluating to support in the future.

Strong Industry Partnerships

With all the smart grid components, it is impossible for a single vendor to provide every piece. Utilities must seek vendors that have strong relationships with other providers offering complementary grid technologies. A large percentage any large-scale technology implementation cost often is spent on integration. Working with vendors that have partnered to pre-integrate their technology can simplify this step for end users.

Utilities should be prepared to form close partnerships with vendors when building a smart grid. Because building a smart grid is such an involved, ongoing process that takes on a different form based on each utility’s needs, goals and visions, utilities must dedicate effort to making their advanced grid projects work. They cannot pass it off entirely to vendors.

A smart grid has the highest chance of success when it is built with great planning and strategy. A smart grid is not just one piece of technology to be purchased and put into operation; it is a careful balance of technologies and vendors that if crafted well can transform a utility’s grid and operations and propel it successfully into the future.

DiMarco is executive director of global utilities and communications at Intergraph.

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