By Tony DiMarco, Executive Director, Global Utilities & Communications, Intergraph
What really makes a grid smart? Is it AMI? OMS? ADMS? MDM? GIS? CIM? CIP? The number of acronyms being used to describe smart grid has quickly become overwhelming, making it difficult for utilities to truly understand what they need to build automated, resilient grids that will meet both current and future energy needs.
With so many vendors in the space, it’s getting easy for utilities to become disillusioned and think there’s one magic-bullet technology for achieving a smart grid. In reality, a true smart grid involves all of the solutions and technologies listed above, plus more.
But most importantly, it involves careful planning and strategy to make sure all of the technologies implemented can perform as needed and also effectively integrate with one another for reliable, secure and efficient operations. A bunch of stovepipe technologies do not make for a very smart grid.
Operating tomorrow’s distribution network requires tightly integrated systems for a fast, coordinated response to potential issues. Not only does a more efficient and reliable grid improve operations and increase customer satisfaction, but it can potentially save utilities millions of dollars in money typically lost due to power outages.
Here are some key facets that should be considered when implementing an intelligent grid.
Strong geospatial data foundation (GIS)
Like anything else in the world, a smart grid is not very smart without data – and not just any data, but data that is accessible, understandable and accurate.
To truly develop a grid that can effectively pinpoint and resolve outages and efficiently dispatch crews to the right place at the right time, a utility must have a strong handle on the nature and location of all assets.
The right geospatial infrastructure solution, also known as a geographic information system (GIS) or network and asset management system, is therefore 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 basis for smart grid operations.
A few key questions to consider when selecting the best geospatial technology to support a smart grid include:
* Is the system scalable and able to model all of the network assets in a single database, making it easier to administer and integrate with other corporate IT systems?
* Is the system capable of modeling the intricate connectivity of complex networks to support the data needs of in-depth engineering analysis and assure the highest level of data integrity?
* Does the infrastructure management system support the modeling of all the required infrastructure of a smart grid, both the energy delivery system (electric, gas or water), as well as the required communications infrastructure? The ability of one system to model all of the necessary infrastructure provides additional synergy across information systems.
* Is the system built on open standards? Utilities realize the greatest ROI on their geospatial technology investment when they can easily integrate and leverage geospatial asset data with other applications to make them “location aware.”
* Does the vendor have proven experience with utilities? Is the solution appropriate to meet both the asset management and operating needs of an electric or communication grid, or is it a more generic solution that may have to be customized to handle an electric network?
* Is the system smart grid ready? Does the system meet all of the above mission-critical corporate information systems requirements?
Common operating picture (COP)
Just as the grid is not smart without strong data, data is not very strong unless it can be easily analyzed, interpreted and acted upon. When utilities build a smart grid, they should not overlook the operations center and the effects it will have on grid operators.
As more grid components become “smart,” i.e. capable of producing more data, utilities will require a means of bringing all of this new data together in an easily understood format so that grid operators do not become overwhelmed.
When properly designed, the integration of operating data with geospatial information about the grid can improve visualization and understanding of grid operations. The result is improved situational awareness for operating personnel, enabling them to operate the grid more reliably and with greater safety and a reduced chance of operating error.
A system that provides a common operating picture, such as the Intergraph Smart Grid Operations Command-and-Control Center, integrates disparate grid data into a consolidated user interface and displays it in a spatial context, modernizing the control room for faster, more informed decision making and providing utilities with the power to see, control and respond.
A common operating picture can integrate real-time data, such as SCADA information about the network, and can also enable operators to view security technologies such as sensors and video analytics in the same interface as other grid technologies, boosting security and situational awareness in addition to reliability and efficiency.
Overall, a successful smart grid operations center should assist the operator to rapidly filter, analyze and interpret information in a spatial context.
Advanced distribution management system (ADMS)
Integrated power systems analysis, as part of an advanced distribution management system, and combined with a spatial view of the network and field resources, provides a very powerful environment for operations control of the electrical grid by determining the state of the distribution operating model and predicting the impact of planned changes.
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.
More specifically, these tools can detect potential equipment loading and voltage limit violations, enable the operator to efficiently isolate faulted areas of the network and restore service to customers on unfaulted feeder sections even before repair work begins.
They can also determine the most probable location of electrical faults in the distribution network. Overall, an effective power systems analysis solution should maximize system operations by providing recommendations on the best means of preventing outages and restoring service in the event of an outage without stressing and overloading other parts of the system.
Outage management system (OMS)
Prompt power restoration following a storm or other type of outage is the hallmark of utility customer service. Effective grid operations therefore require fast, automated outage management procedures.
A successful outage management system (OMS) pinpoints the cause of trouble and eliminates unnecessary crew dispatches, improving the productivity of both dispatchers and field crews. Additionally, 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 that the right crews are sent to the right place in an efficient manner to restore power as quickly as possible.
By monitoring crew assignments and locations, dispatchers can also optimize schedules and routes based on job locations and available equipment, saving significant time and money.
By implementing an OMS, utilities including a major utility in storm-ravaged Florida have reported that they have been able to reduce their customer average interruption duration index (CAIDI) to below and better than the industry average, and have boosted the productivity of their field crews by as much as 20 percent.
Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA)
SCADA provides the digital information and controls technology fundamental to improving the reliability, security and efficiency of the electric grid. The integration of SCADA with other grid technologies is crucial for achieving real-time monitoring and the 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 the control room, utilities should make sure they can integrate with their SCADA system(s) of choice.
Smart meters and advanced metering infrastructure (AMI)
Smart meters and their requisite AMI provide another sensor to monitor the state of the distribution system. While the benefits of smart meters to reduce the costs of meter reading and meter operations have been well documented, utilizing smart meters to enhance information about the status of the distribution system and provide operational benefits is still a new area 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 these new sensors.
By integrating its AMI system with its OMS, a major northeast utility in the U.S. reported a reduction of CAIDA by nearly four minutes and an annual savings of more than $400,000 as a result of more rapid and accurate outage detection and validation, and a resultant reduction of non-productive “truck rolls” and crew dispatches. By integrating its smart meters with its operations systems, the utility found a “smarter” way to operate.
Mobile workforce management (MWFM)
Another key component to smart grid, and one that is closely related to OMS, is mobile workforce management (MWFM). For the typical utility, two-thirds of total employees are field based. This makes the automation of field personnel and the extension of critical business applications to remote users a key opportunity for productivity improvement and cost reduction.
Ideally, a 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 and complete information in the field ensures accurate, up-to-date information and improves operations efficiency and safety.
Optimally, the OMS and the MWFM should be integrated to provide the ability for dispatchers and field crews to view the same map for improved communication and coordination, as well as the capability to integrate the map display with GPS technology to track crew locations.
Service-oriented architecture (SOA)
Intergraph sees the future of utilities technology as one that encompasses seamless integration, the elimination of boundaries and flexible adaptation to changing circumstances. Today, some vendors are embracing this vision through the adoption of service-oriented architecture (SOA). SOA is widely recognized as the software architecture of the future. It enables a highly flexible and 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. When implementing the “back office” and “front office” information systems to support and enable the smart grid, utilities should consider the vendor’s SOA strategy and the ability of the solution architecture to easily integrate with other systems. SOA is a way to help “future proof” your information systems investment.
Security/critical infrastructure protection (CIP)
As electric, gas and water distribution networks are becoming more connected to the Internet via components including distribution SCADA systems and smart meters, security is quickly becoming one of the biggest concerns for utilities. These days, it is not enough to put barbed wire around critical assets and call it a day. Adequate electric grid security now requires a comprehensive mix of physical and cyber security to thwart a wide variety of attack methods.
Since they are such a critical resource, utility networks are at high risk for attack by terrorists, extortionists looking for financial gains or even competitors or disgruntled employees. Utilities have to be prepared not only for intentional attacks, but also potential accidental disruptions to the power supply due to employee error, natural disasters or equipment failure. In general, utility networks were not built to be resilient to sophisticated attacks, so utilities must take extra measures to adequately protect them in the Internet age.
Couple these facts with the knowledge that government agencies and industry organizations are currently developing more advanced security policies for electricity suppliers, and President Obama’s increased focus on critical infrastructure protection, and it becomes clear that security has quickly become a “˜now’ issue for utilities as opposed to one they can deal with later on down the line. As part of their smart grid strategy, utilities are therefore urged to work with security experts to conduct a vulnerability assessment on all of their critical assets, then take the recommended steps to protect each and every asset from both physical and cyber threats.
Interoperability and support of standards
The support of industry and technology standards such as ISO, OGC, IEC and CIM are key ingredients to building a truly 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 choice of vendors a utility can work with to build its system.
As smart grid is becoming more mainstream, additional standards for interoperability and security may also evolve from organizations such as those sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and the international standards community. It is therefore important that utilities ask their smart grid vendors which standards they adhere to now, and which they are monitoring and evaluating to support in the future.
With all of the components that go into a smart grid, it is impossible for a single vendor to provide every piece. It is therefore prudent for utilities to seek out vendors that have strong relationships with other providers offering complementary grid technologies. A large percentage of the costs of any large-scale technology implementation is often spent on integration. Working with vendors that have already partnered to pre-integrate their technology can simplify this step for end users.
For example, Intergraph has partnered with Siemens to provide an advanced distribution management system and smart grid control center, integrating OMS, MWFM, security, geospatial technology, SCADA and power systems analysis tools into a consolidated user interface for maximum efficiency. The system displays all of the grid information both in a geospatial view and an engineering schematic view, giving operators a more complete view of the entire system, which aids decision making and decreases response time.
Intergraph has also partnered with meter data management (MDM) provider eMeter to easily incorporate smart meter data into this consolidated dashboard, allowing utilities to gain the full benefits of the data by leveraging it for improved operations in areas such as outage and distribution management. By incorporating smart meters into the outage management process, utilities can more quickly identify the location and cause of outages, avoid wasted time and resources associated with sending crews to unnecessary areas and improve overall service to customers.
Another key point about partnerships is that utilities themselves should be prepared to form close partnerships with their vendors when building a smart grid. Since building a smart grid is such an involved and ongoing process that takes on a different form based on each utility’s needs, goals and visions, utilities must dedicate a fair amount of effort and dedication to making their advanced grid projects work. They cannot just pass it off entirely to a group of vendors.
Bringing it all together
If done right, a smart grid can result in innumerable benefits for utilities. Besides boosting reliability, reducing response times, increasing operational efficiency and improving safety and security, a smart grid can also help utilities reduce complexities, save on resources and dramatically cut costs.
Additionally, by creating a more efficient, flexible, resilient and secure energy system, a smart grid can help utilities to continue to meet the world’s energy demands without exhausting its resources and further harming the environment. A new, advanced grid will also help utilities comply with impending government standards for energy delivery.
While the list of smart grid technologies and attributes in this article might sound like a lot to consider, a smart grid has the highest chance of success when it is built with a great deal of planning and strategy. A smart grid is not just one piece of technology to be purchased and put into operation. It is instead a careful balance of multiple technologies and vendors that — if crafted well — have the ability to transform a utility’s grid and operations and propel it successfully into the future.