T&D World Magazine

Distribution Automation is Becoming a Top Priority for Smart Grid Utilities

For many market observers, the term “smart grid” is often synonymous with “smart meters.” While advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) has indeed captured most of the smart grid limelight over the past few years, this emphasis is changing as distribution automation (DA), spurred by the threats and the opportunities of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) and distributed generation (DG), moves advanced capabilities from the pilot stage to early commercial adoption. According to a recent report from Pike Research, worldwide DA revenues have increased significantly in the past few years, rising from $1.2 billion in 2008 to $2.7 billion in 2010. By 2014, the cleantech market intelligence firm forecasts that revenues in the sector will reach $10.4 billion annually.

“The essence of the smart grid is to transform the electricity distribution network from a one-way to a multi-way power network,” said Research Director Bob Gohn. “With smart meter projects well underway, utilities are now turning their attention to improving efficiency and control in the segment of the grid that lies between the substation and the meter. In addition to the tangible benefits of improving reliability and efficiency within grid operations, DA upgrades have another important attribute – they have the potential to deliver strong return on investment without requiring intensive consumer engagement or behavior change.”

Gohn adds that DA initiatives are taking many forms in various utility projects. Once reserved to relatively simple remote control of field-based switches and sensors with the primary aim of increasing reliability, DA technologies are beginning to comprehend the demand response capability of conservation voltage control (CVR) and the energy management possibilities of dynamic load distribution.

Pike Research’s analysis indicates that various demonstration projects and leading production deployments, such as at Progress Energy, will accelerate industry discussion. Duke Energy’s efforts to foster a smarter distribution network by encouraging the development of generalized computing and communications “platforms” deep within the distribution network, as embodied by products from Ambient, Echelon and SmartSynch, are likely to yield new innovations that will address the multi-way distribution system. “The final outcomes may not be clear,” says Gohn, “but more industry conversation will arise even as traditional distribution automation technologies increase their market penetration and integration into a broader smart grid.”

Pike Research’s report, Distribution Automation, forecasts the size and growth of the worldwide distribution automation market by region and technology segment through 2015. The report analyzes market factors and technology issues that affect the DA market’s growth, and it addresses the key applications producing benefits and value for utility customers. Detailed profiles are also included for prominent utilities, industry vendors, and other players involved in the DA ecosystem.

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