A few months ago I wrote a commentary to provide possible answers to the question: What makes a grid smart? One of my conclusions, a lay-up, a really obvious one, was it is the team of people who work together in new ways, defeating the strong resistance to significant change, to make IT and OT systems function with ever-evolving technology to perform new tasks. Now I’d like to ask the question: Who in this day and time does not want a smart grid?
Believe it or not, when I wrote about the smart grid in the past, and specifically about advanced meter infrastructure (AMI), which I will argue here is the gateway to many of the benefits of a smart grid, I received an angry response from at least one grid operator indicating that smart meters were a waste and how dare I say that power providers need to consider them to provide the highest level of service. Well, thank you very much! I do appreciate feedback, even if contains an opposing position.
Let’s noodle on that opposition position regarding AMI. Why would a power provider be violently opposed to the use of smart meters? In this instance, I sensed that the opponent did not feel he could justify the costs for installing AMI on his small system. We also occasionally hear about some lingering opposition to smart meters due to privacy issues. That said, let’s look at the pro-side of the smart meter issue. Chad Edens and Tige Ballard from Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corp. (MTEMC) wrote an excellent article about smart meters entitled "Remote Disconnections." The authors describe objectives they had when planning AMI, preparing for new operation and business protocols, challenges associated with implementation and the benefits of a well-designed and executed AMI project with a focus on remote disconnects and reconnects. While Edens and Ballard point out that AMI projects are a major endeavor, they reported that MTEMC achieved reductions in operating budgets, increased operational effectiveness, enhanced customer satisfaction and even experienced greater employee work satisfaction.
AMI is the most widely implemented smart grid technology according to research performed by Jason Dedrick from the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University. He also found that meter data management systems (MDMS) and outage management systems (OMS) were often implemented in conjunction with AMI as shown in the following slide from Professor Dedrick.
Dedrick found the reasoning for AMI and MDMS popularity among the utilities he surveyed included reliability, operational efficiency and cost reduction, similar to the findings from MTEMC. Dedrick also found that utilities with AMI or MDMS were more likely to have outage management systems (OMS), distribution management systems (DMS) and Voltage/Var optimization (VVO). Is this a coincidence or is adoption of AMI a gateway, either technically or psychologically, driving utilities ahead with smart grid implementation? I base my belief that the latter is true on the observation that AMI usually involves some form of wireless communications and logic software, which can make the move to various other smart grid technologies easier or more familiar.
S&C Electric has posted a video of a smart grid simulation that effectively demonstrates the benefits of a self-healing grid. The presentation compares the length of interruption and the customers impacted on a small system with conventional, manually operated components and the same disturbance on a system with smart grid switches and circuit breakers. The presenter, S&C Executive Chairman John Estey, also points out an issue that may help account for the lower adoption rate by utilities of smart grid components beyond smart meters in the past: Utilities are not universally permitted to consider customer losses such as lost food or other damage in their cost-benefit analysis of system upgrades. More utilities have bypassed this argument in recent years due to strong pressure, including pressure from regulators, to improve system resiliency.
Regardless of the justification, smart grid technology increases reliability and operational efficiency, decreases operating costs, increases safety for the public and workers, improves resiliency and increases customer satisfaction. Who doesn’t want a smart grid?