Moving Toward a More Resilient Grid: Austin Energy Case Study

By Andrew Bennett, Schneider Electric

Severe weather is the No. 1 cause of power outages, which costs the U.S. economy billions of dollars a year in lost output and wages, spoiled inventory, delayed production, inconvenience and damage to grid infrastructure.

Creating a resilient electric grid is critical to reducing our nation’s vulnerability to severe weather. Furthermore smart grid technology designed to increase resilience can improve the overall effectiveness of grid operations, leading to greater efficiencies in energy use, reduced carbon emissions, and the ability to support the integration of a growing number of distributed energy resources.

To move towards a modern, more resilient grid, utilities need to replace aging infrastructure and deploy smart grid technologies that enable improved communication with end users, greater visibility across operations and more intelligent energy management.

Austin Energy, the eighth largest community-owned utility in the nation, owns and operates transmission and distribution and generation for the Greater Austin area. In Austin, as anywhere, providing a safer, stronger, more resilient power grid is a priority.

Andrew Bennett

The key is making big data actionable, which leads to enhanced customer engagement, improved crew safety, new demand response capabilities and greater visibility into operations from the transmission system to customer meters.

By integrating millions of data points into a single, simplified user experience, utilities have the opportunity to drive greater visibility and ultimately make better decisions.

In its mission to turn data into useful information, provide more reliable service and improve energy efficiency, Austin Energy decided to work with Schneider Electric to implement an advanced distribution management system (ADMS).


Prior to rolling out the ADMS, Austin Energy conducted a pilot to assess the technical feasibility, as well as the costs and benefits of installing such a system. The pilot consisted of monitoring and control of various distribution automation devices over a Landis + Gyr mesh radio network. Simultaneously, Austin Energy modeled a two-substation area to assess the validity of the geographic information system (GIS) model, as well as the model’s ability to effectively communicate the data needed to calculate and solve load flow and fault current. The pilot found that the mesh radio network was able to handle the “last mile” of communication between the substation and various distribution automation devices. The pilot also demonstrated that Austin Energy’s GIS model could sufficiently provide the data needed to successfully run the advanced components of an ADMS.

In 2012, Austin Energy and Schneider Electric officially began rolling out the ADMS system. Austin Energy’s ADMS system combines distribution management system (DMS), outage management system (OMS) and distribution supervisory control and data acquisition (DSCADA) system functionality into one system.

By fully integrating both demand response and distribution resources into the operations of the distribution system, Austin Energy can provide enhanced customer communications on the status of outages to improve customer satisfaction. In addition, Austin Energy’s ADMS offers the system dispatch team better tools for responding to system disturbances, thus increasing situational awareness and improving reliability. Finally, the ADMS is designed to enable Austin Energy to decrease peak demand and lower system losses through conservation voltage reduction and Volt/VAR optimization programs.

Results to Date

In June 2014, less than two years from the start of the project, Austin Energy and Schneider Electric successfully completed the rollout of the comprehensive ADMS platform, including DMS, OMS, and SCADA. The deployment proved effective right away by successfully managing Austin Energy’s network through its summer storm season.

The ADMS deployment included advanced applications including integrated Volt/VAR control (IVVC) to optimize the system, reduce power losses and apply conservation voltage reduction to reduce demand. It also included fault location, isolation and service restoration (FLISR) to assist locating faulted equipment, automatically isolating and expediting power restoration by re-routing power and sending crews directly to areas needing repair.

As a result, the platform provides heightened operator situational awareness, increased crew safety and productivity, optimization of distribution system including loss reduction, enhanced reliability while maximizing grid economics and exceptional customer service.

The biggest impact Austin Energy’s implementation has had so far is the change it has made in the control room. Operators now have a fast, highly reliable system they can depend on. They have access and awareness to more real-time information such as load flow information, locations of crew vehicles and access to SCADA and OMS information on the same system. The system assists Austin Energy in validating any changes made to the topology of the system. In addition, access to load flow information provides operators with better insight into what load they are actually moving.

In addition, Austin Energy now has access to a dispatcher training simulator for its ADMS, which it leverages to provide its operators with OMS training. Previously, Austin Energy only had a dispatcher training simulator for its SCADA system, which operators spent only a fraction of their time using in their daily duties. The ability for operators to now train in the system where they spend most of their time is a real benefit. With this training simulator, new operators have the opportunity to really learn the system and be put through important scenarios they must know how to handle, rather than being expected to learn with no formal training.

Austin Energy’s entire distribution engineering team including system engineering, distribution planning and control engineering can now access one data model, which has increased their communication and collaboration with each other. Together they can now work to improve their ADMS model and are aligned by looking at one common system, which they were never able to do in the past. This collaboration is bringing a new synergy to these teams that will allow Austin Energy to better troubleshoot distribution issues in the future in a more cohesive manner.

Giving Austin Energy’s team’s access to one data model is increasing awareness, not just from an operator perspective, but company wide. Other teams and departments can now access information that they never had before. Distribution construction crew leaders, engineers and SCADA personnel have access to information on crew locations, outages, real time load flow information and more.

While some of this information is not pertinent for all these work groups to perform their daily tasks, giving them more access to Austin Energy’s operations information is creating more well-rounded utility personnel, who are more aware and knowledgeable of the company’s operations. For example, SCADA database analysts who used to only be concerned with building displays and point names are now exposed to catalog information for utility equipment and electrical characteristics of devices. Planning engineers whose previous data models modeled only to the service transformers are now exposed to a system that lets them analyze the effects of Austin Energy’s secondary distribution model, as well as on a consumer level.

Austin Energy’s ADMS is the ideal platform to support integrating control and monitoring of intelligent electronic distribution devices, along with its AMI infrastructure. ADMS allows the utility to perform AMI functions such as pinging meters or receiving notification of last gaps or power restoration messages. This functionality is not only better visualized in the system, but it is better taken advantage of because the system acts as Austin Energy’s outage management system. In addition, the advanced AMI infrastructure allows personnel to validate and be notified of outages or restorations prior to customer notification. The system provides Austin Energy with control center capabilities and support it previously didn’t have.

This ADMS system is the platform of Austin Energy’s future. The utility now has the ability to better leverage information from intelligent electronic distribution devices for applications such as load flow. More importantly, it can use the information and the new capabilities to perform advanced applications (such as VVO and FLISR), giving it complete control over its distribution system and the ability to respond to changes in an intelligent way. Having the flexibility to control system voltages, optimize the system or self-heal the network is the ultimate goal of all electric utilities, and the ADMS is the platform that makes this goal achievable for Austin Energy.

What’s Next?

As Austin Energy enters the final stages of determining how its business processes will change to allow it to extend controls from the ADMS system to its Ranger energy management system (EMS), it plans to use additional advanced system applications to enable its control room and distribution engineering groups.

Through this deployment, Austin Energy aims to achieve a number of energy-efficiency, profitability and customer-service goals, including:

  • Reaching 55 percent renewable energy in its energy mix by 2025
  • Deploying 950 MW of solar power, with 200 MW being local solar, by 2025
  • Adding 100 MW of demand side management to bring its total to 900 MW of demand side management by 2025
  • Achieving overall customer satisfaction of 82 percent as measured by a variety of surveys
  • Maintaining reliability goals for System Average Interruption Duration Index (SAIDI) of 60 minutes and System Average Interruption Frequency Index (SAIFI) of 0.8 interruptions
  • Achieving all of these goals while meeting affordability measures of no more than an average 2 percent rate increase per year and ensuring that the average residential bill is in the bottom 50 percent of all residential bills in Texas.

Austin Energy’s ADMS deployment represents a significant step toward the development of a smarter grid and stands as an example for utilities across the country as they work to create a more sustainable, resilient, energy efficient country. Body copy

Andrew Bennett is senior vice president of energy at Schneider Electric

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