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The Grid Transformation Forum | An In-depth View of Smart Grid

We are in discussion with Minsait ACS (formerly Advanced Control Systems) CEO Kevin Sullivan and CTO Gary Ockwell on the subject of Smart Grid as it applies to how utilities need to take advantage of the latest technologies to upgrade their entire grid.

Source: Electric Energy T&D Magazine

by Kevin Sullivan and Gary Ockwell

EET&D : What is the biggest impediment utilities face with respect to Smart Grid implementation?

Mr. Ockwell: : Budget and time. Most people think of the Smart Grid in terms of self-healing automation to improve reliability, or Volt VAr control to reduce cost. The problem is these technologies take time and money to implement. For most utilities the foreseeable automation horizon for the potential of the Smart Grid may not apply to more than 20 percent of their network over five years. Utilities need to be able to take advantage of the Smart Grid in a way that applies to their entire network from the beginning, not just the part that they can automate in the near future. Unless the complete grid – not just a small portion – benefits from the technology, the business justification of today’s investment may be inadequate. Worse, the number of customers that benefit from the Smart Grid is commensurably limited.

EET&D : Apart from the time and budget investment to expand automation to all of the grid, what benefits can a utility derive from the Smart Grid for the non-automated portion?

Mr. Ockwell: : Popular technologies such as ‘self-healing’ can be applied to all of the grid from the start. A major cost is in the automated switches, capacitors, communications and their installation. But what if we leveraged the existing automation and communications to apply these same technologies everywhere?

For example, Smart Grid self-healing solutions depend on deriving a solution based on identifying the fault location. Prior to the Smart Grid, the Outage Management System (OMS) determined the fault location using an exhaustive search of the feeder for the faulted section. Unfortunately, the nationwide average for fault discovery consumes 60 percent of a utility troubleshooter’s time. The Smart Grid self-healing technology improves on this process to instantly and automatically identify the fault location. The self-healing methodology of fault location is determined through down line detection of the existence of fault current at the switching points. The location, coupled with knowledge of the operation of protective devices and a lock out signal, indicates that the existing protection schemes to restore were not successful, and the fault persists. While this is a great solution, it is too expensive to purchase and install the necessary equipment.

The entire management of the restoration process can be improved by blending the legacy OMS process of identifying fault location with Smart Grid network analysis. The Smart Grid can improve the troubleshooter’s discovery process by narrowing the search area to those feeder sections that could support the fault current measured by the existing substation relays. This technology is called short circuit analysis or fault location.

EET&D : Is there any further improvement to be gained in the crew’s processes?

Mr. Ockwell: : Yes, the crew’s ability to view the network using their smart phone or tablet, while the DMS highlights the potential areas of the fault location, greatly improves their troubleshooting speed. Furthermore, we overlay the control center’s network topology on a Google map, showing the potential fault locations on a map to expedite the discovery process. Even without an investment in automation, we can more effectively leverage the tools crews have to accelerate the management of the outage restoration. Our communication medium is already in their pocket and is used to inform and deploy the crews. This is the beginning of the ‘Human Grid.’

EET&D : Where does the ‘Human Grid’ go from there?

Mr. Ockwell: : Let’s discuss the next step in the process we described. Once the fault location has been verified more rapidly than is possible using the existing ‘search and find’ methodology, the next step in Smart Grid’s automated self-healing process is the isolation and upstream restoration of the unfaulted sections. The classical approach to the Smart Grid requires expensive remote control switching to perform this function.

However, lacking the automation equipment, we again deploy the crew in a more efficient manner without added automation or communications. We push the derived switch steps to the crew’s mobile device, where they can view the near real-time map topology, which is overlaid on Google map. The DMS-created switch plan, or OMS work order, is integrated into the topology map and pushed to the crew’s mobile device. Also visible is the placement of clearance, hold or information tags. As the crew completes the switch steps to isolate the faulted section, the event is immediately time-tagged and the status change is pushed to the DMS. The resultant topology change is evident when the topology is updated on the crew’s mobile device.

Supported by secure confirmation/verification that the crew is finished with the isolation (verified by the operator topology change on his map), the operator in the control center can issue a reclose supervisory control to the substation breaker for the upstream restore. The automatic time-tagging of the manual operation using the mobile device provides an accurate recording of the restoration—a vital component of the SAIDI, CAIDI calculations. Once again, engaging the crew is enabling the Human Grid.

EET&D : Can any other part of the self-healing process benefit the grid without automation?

Mr. Ockwell: : Yes. The downstream restoration follows a similar process – a vast improvement over the classical restoration methodology. Before the Smart Grid, complex switching plans were typically generated in the control center using a load flow tool to verify the results. The switch plan was either verbally communicated or, in the event of planned outages, handwritten on a switching form and faxed or emailed to a service center for execution.

The Smart Grid self-healing analysis accomplishes this switching analysis and generation instantly using a real-time load flow. The resultant switch plan is approved by the operator and authorized for direct execution and control.

However, if automation is not available everywhere, once again engaging the human Grid opens the benefits of the Smart Grid network analysis to the entire grid and to all of the public. Using their smart phone or tablets, crews become the Smart Grid’s automation and communications at a very low cost. The quality of the Smart Grid-derived solution is the same with or without automation. Automation simply improves the speed of implementation. Integration of mobile functions with Smart Grid applications is how we enable the Human Grid to accomplish the work of the Smart Grid.

EET&D : What is the next step in the Human Grid beyond a tighter integration of the crew and the DMS?

Mr. Ockwell: : Engagement of the public with the Smart Grid control center. The public, armed with their mobile devices, are a powerful source of telemetry and control information for the utility. After all, the public not only controls the load, they are the load. Demand response, load shed, problem reporting, outage restoration confirmation, and more can easily be achieved by engaging a cooperative public. For example, the ability to passively set the home temperature, which typically represents half of the residential load, can have a large impact on the feeder load. Using incentive programs and text messages, the public can become ready and willing arms of automation for the utility with very little investment. The information that a cooperative public can feed back to the utility is immeasurable. Effective Customer Engagement ignites the Human Grid.

EET&D : A cooperative public? What does that imply?

Mr. Ockwell: : J.D. Power’s 2016 Electric Utility Business Customer Satisfaction Study reported an important public perception. They said that “Power quality and reliability satisfaction among business customers who experience a power outage and receive information regarding the outage is 23% higher than among those who do not receive any outage information.”

Consider that without any actual automation investment, a utility can achieve a 23 percent improvement in power quality and reliability satisfaction, as perceived by the public. The cost of opening lines of communication with the public is far less than the cost of automation. When it comes to customers, for all practical purposes, their perception is the utility’s reality.

Smart Grid automation is important. However, just as important is how the improvements are communicated to the customer. The same report also found that “proactive communication, including using digital and social media, is key to improved business customer satisfaction with electric utility companies”. They concluded that proactive and personal communications methods of all types are the most effective tools, with an approximate 33 percent improvement in customer satisfaction. Utilities need to open up communication channels to the public in a proactive, personal way. If the public can be moved from ‘satisfied’ to ‘engaged’ or ‘cooperative,’ the utility can accomplish much success.

EET&D : What is the difference between a satisfied public and a cooperative public?

Mr. Ockwell: : The difference is important. You may recall that the DOE’s seven characteristics of the Smart Grid calls for customer satisfaction. A satisfied public is not enough. A cooperative public derives a perceived benefit from the technology. That is the problem with AMI – it offers the public no perceived value proposition; the value is the utility’s alone. In fact, AMI is often viewed with suspicion by the public. However, if the utility can push daily or weekly information to the public, the utility can turn a satisfied public into a cooperative public. With the latter, you can achieve the low cost benefits for all concerned by leveraging the Human Grid.

EET&D : Why is this approach not more commonly used?

Mr. Ockwell: : Perhaps the reason is that the Smart Grid was designed by engineers with a love for automation. A more social approach to the Smart Grid is needed. Utilities have been slow to adopt communication channels preferred by the public. Even today, many utilities are installing new automatic voice response systems, without considering that the younger generations do not prefer voice communications, even with their friends or family, let alone the utility. From the Smart Grid point of view, the technology is again focused on automation rather than on an analysis tool set useful in the hands of the operator for the non-automated portions of the network – which is the majority of it.

The goal is to engage the crews and the public as the “boots on the ground” to collect telemetry information, and for the crews to affect changes in the network using an efficient integration with the DMS and OMS applications. The supreme advantage of the Human Grid is that it exists and can be engaged at a low cost with optimum results.

We will now be speaking with ACS CEO Kevin Sullivan

EET&D : What is foundational in transforming the grid?

Mr. Sullivan: : Energy is foundational to our civilization and the people that work in the energy management industry must wake up every day and come to work with a single purpose in mind of how to place real-time information and control in the hands of the utility.

EET&D : How should the 21st Century Grid provide the necessary tools for the energy management industry?

Mr. Sullivan: : Utilities’ need for speed requires a real-time integrated platform. Everything can be accomplished in real-time when utilities have one integrated data source. Many systems build their data, based on derived and pseudo data points and serial links. Utilities could benefit from an integrated platform for a single real-time database, enabling them to address real-time incidents. Customers take the data from the field in real-time and through integrated applications and advanced controls using real-time data, they have control at their fingertips to make prompt decisions to optimize grid efficiency.

EET&D : Did you understand that day one or did it develop over time?

Mr. Sullivan: : We started with the digital control systems.

In addition, the edges of the grid are changing with the deployment of disruptive technologies, such as Distributed Energy Resources (DER), that also require integration and control in real-time. The technology addresses current and future grid operational challenges. In order for utilities to better manage energy today, companies like ours have and will continue to enhance solutions and lead the industry with innovative technology to rapidly adapt to a continuously evolving environment with ever increasing disruptive events -- from extreme weather to forced outages.

EET&D : Does the industry see the Grid Transformation?

Mr. Sullivan: : I think the industry is starting to see it, where there is a high degree of penetration of renewable and/or sub generation at the consumer end. It’s starting to see the needs in order to keep the grid stable and keep lights on. The need for speed and the ability to manage in real-time has become far more apparent. I would say that some of the extreme events like super storm Sandy and other uncontrolled events have also amplified the need to be able to manage the grid in real-time.

EET&D : It seems sensible that you would want real-time, so why would there be any hesitation? Why has it taken so long for the industry to recognize the need?

Mr. Sullivan: : It is a factor of the installed base. The utility industry has been around since the early 1900s, and for decades was a central generation source with transmission lines leading to the load. For many, many years, assets have been built up, as the control of that grid has been ingrained in the utility industry. Only now, with the IT revolution and the digital revolution, have people started to understand the need to make the change. When you have a tremendous amount of assets and copper in the ground and investments that you’ve made, it is hard to make the change to the more advanced control systems. Therefore, many utilities have to make a business case for it and a lot of the business case arguments are related to event-driven aspects like an outage.

EET&D : Do utilities seek a range of solutions?

Mr. Sullivan: : Solutions reside centrally in the utility control center and manage the entire grid from a central point. Feeder-based or line-based distribution systems balance each feeder. This solution is a distributive control system. An example of that technology is when your lights try to recover power. Your energy goes out and comes back on and your lights flicker. The advance control systems on the feeder allow three different attempts to reroute the power and reinstate the lights and the energy to the consumers. After the third attempt, if unsuccessful, the utility communicates to send a crew.

The solution could also include RTU products. This is a very advanced upgrade solution for very old RTUs. The technology is available to seamlessly and effectively upgrade a utility to the digital age without a big outage.

Last but not least, another aspect worth noting is that the OMS can be taken to the next level with mobile solutions. It engages the consumer in the energy equation, placing control and communication in their hands via the smart phone to either participate in an outage or to actually provide energy management solutions as consumption management of their own energy.

EET&D : How does that work?

Mr. Sullivan: : The technology uses advanced applications on a smart device, reconnects back to the central control room, and provides direct feedback to the utility. This is a solution that the utility pushes to the consumer. It engages the consumer by providing points of credits for participation, and/or involving the consumer in what we call demand response. That means if the utility has a problem supplying energy during peak hours, it can request through the technology that a consumer actually help control the load and participate directly with the utility. That technology is based on central communication IT technology today but it is very integrated with what I call real-time operating systems sitting in the central control.

EET&D : Does it take much for the consumer to understand?

Mr. Sullivan: : I think consumers that enjoy a very low electricity bill will not be as interested as customers in the Northeast and in California, where people have seen their monthly income affected by the consumption of electricity. Consumption of electricity is an interesting business. It is never sold and just used. Sixty days after consumption, you find out how much electricity was used. What we have done with this application is to put real-time controls in the hands of the consumer to see how much they are spending today, how much would they save tomorrow, and what they would spend in a year if they implement the savings of technologies that we provide.

EET&D : It has been a real pleasure speaking with both of you. We appreciate your taking time from what I’m sure are crazy schedules. Smart Grid is going to be key in most peoples’ lives going forward and it’s good that companies like yours are on the cutting edge.