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System of Systems: All Hands on Deck

New Zealand’s largest distributor of electricity and gas is installing an SoS.

Though often a distress call, in this case, SoS is a "System of Systems" approach to leverage emerging distributed energy resources (DERs) for the benefit of all customers.

Let me share why Vector — New Zealand’s largest distributor of electricity and gas — is installing an SoS. We are seeing the distribution grid transforming to become an increasingly complex system of interconnected systems. We can expect the grid to grow to support thousands of platforms, with multiple operators — think campuses, aggregators, home area networks and energy services providers — and millions of users with specific applications and requirements, tens of millions of sensors, nodes and control points.

What are the drivers pushing us to make this decision? We realize we must be able to reduce peak demand while addressing the impact on the network of electric vehicles, photovoltaics, and gas or diesel generators on the grid. We need a system that can handle battery storage systems charging and discharging into the grid. We must handle load shifting and load shedding, and we must handle it in real time.

The value proposition for an SoS was clear, but it took us a while to realize that we needed an enabling, integrated solution to handle DERs, whether they were on the network or on customer premises.

Ultimately, we decided to build out a solution that allows multiple systems to work together in a seamless fashion; a solution that provides greater visibility, analytics and decision-support capabilities; and a solution that requires an extremely high level of transparency for customers, operators, stakeholders and regulators. We decided to build out an SoS.

SoS is a platform designed to enable interaction between any and all systems, applications, sensors and controllable devices over any communications media, using any known protocol. Ideally, with respect to software and hardware that it interacts with, the SoS is vendor and system agnostic. It enables the distribution system operator, customers, energy service providers and others to change or upgrade their applications and subsystems without creating integration issues with the SoS.

The distribution system is evolving into a physical, real-time, cyber-sensitive and social/market system. The SoS needs to embrace centralized, decentralized and event-driven solutions and architectures that can adapt and ensure security at all points in the system. It is this way that we can optimize the use of the resources, the network and the intelligent technologies to enable a safe, reliable and cost-effective network.

We gave ourselves a daunting challenge — the integration of DERs with the control of the distribution network — and undertook a pilot. The pilot was tasked with the full integration of visibility and control substations; feeders; rooftop solar (company owned and customer owned, multiple technology providers); home batteries (company owned and customer owned, multiple technology providers); grid-scale batteries; a legacy water heater demand response program (PLC ripple technology); public car charging stations; load forecasting; weather forecasting; as well as integration to the transmission system operator’s delivery point telemetry system. We were hopeful, and we were also skeptical, that these disparate systems could be integrated to provide seamless visualization and control, quickly and effectively. The pilot was highly successful. Within a month, the SoS was up and running, allowing seamless and effective coordination and control across all targeted systems and technologies.

The pilot led us to develop an SoS that offered the following capabilities:

• Enables customers to respond to market signals

• Allows us to seamlessly integrate various applications without the need to replace existing systems

• Provides end-to-end monitoring, data collection and analyses of data in a real-time, dynamic and secure environment

• Enables us to realize additional operational efficiencies such as condition-based maintenance and asset security management

• Allows us to easily develop fit for purpose algorithms and business rules in a logical and simplified way. It complements and enhances existing SCADA systems and meter data management systems

• Allows the integration of legacy (or bespoke) systems with IP addressable systems, which means we don’t have to replace existing systems to realize the benefits of integration

• Enhances our ability to make decisions in this increasingly complex and multi-variable operating environment through machine learning and artificial intelligence that underpin the analytical capability of the system.

Distribution utilities are facing the need to change and change rapidly, and unless we are able to adapt to the changes that DERs are bringing our way, we will be unable to cope. Let’s not wait until it is too late and throw up a distress signal. Let’s build out platforms that will enable a way forward.

Vector has made the decision to move forward with a systemwide rollout of the SoS, a fully capable distributed energy resource management system (DERMS), as well as to migrate our operational technology and information technology platforms to an SoS architecture. For us, this is the only way we can stay relevant and continue to bring value to our customers and the wide range of stakeholders who need the new integrated delivery network. This contributes to a lighter, more efficient network that is agile in providing customers choice and options never seen before in this industry. ♦

Andre Botha is the chief networks officer with Vector who oversees Vector’s regulated gas and electricity networks businesses

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