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ADMS + DERM = Awareness

July 28, 2020
Today’s distribution management platforms must be able to monitor and control the distribution system beyond the meter.

Smartening up the electrical supply system has been one of the major dreams and goals of modernizing the grid. Applying smart grid digital technology for the past decades has been the vehicle to do this. Initially the main emphasis on the high-voltage transmission grid was the digital substation and the smart meters on the distribution network.

Dropping prices on sensors and transducers, as well as increased usage encouraged more applications. Their capabilities improved, and their size became smaller, which resulted in more utilization. Today, advanced monitoring functions have been integrated into every segment of the grid, ranging from transmission components to feeder elements. They are even reaching the behind-the-meter (BTM) segment of the grid. The smaller size and lower prices have had a major impact by opening up the low-voltage levels of the distribution networks to the technology and it’s getting attention. Smart distribution equipment (switches, interrupters, reclosers, etc.) can monitor and control the feeders right up to the customer’s meter.

Hardware & Software

Frankly having these intelligent components is only part of the challenge because state-of-the-art devices need smarter control systems. Those cutting-edge control systems came in the form of standalone applications like distribution supervisory control and data acquisition systems (D-SCADA), distribution management systems (DMS), and outage management systems (OMS). Unfortunately as smarter equipment was deployed, a couple of hurdles had to be overcome. There was a lot of big data being produced, and it needed to be processed by each of the monitoring systems. In addition, most utilities had a number of platforms installed throughout the enterprise and each of them was a standalone system. Let’s look at the big-data issue first. Without going into great detail, big data needs to be converted to actionable information. That is where big-data analytical software applications help along with cloud-based computing services. These applications (i.e., D-SCADA, DMS, and OMS) and their big data brought about features such as demand response systems, geographic information systems (GIS), and distribution network applications (DNA), but the level of complexity increased. Not only were the distribution operators inundated with big data, they had to switch between platforms to try to see what was taking place on the network, and details were sometimes overlooked. It was apparent operators needed a common interface point to organize and intelligently manage the growing operational information and the number of elements. Some authorities described this as a convergence of information technology and operational technology. The blending produced several applications devoted to filling this need, but something was lacking. As the technology improved, real progress was made with the addition of the advanced distribution management system (ADMS).


Think about ADMS as the integration of D-SCADA, OMS, DMS, GIS, DNA, and several other advanced software schemes into one common user platform designed to monitor, control, and optimize the distribution system. For the first time, the distribution operator was able estimate power flows, track outages, automated service restoration, control feeders, and predict outage on the distribution network, but changes were taking place everywhere. The commercial, industrial, and residential customers had embraced distributed energy resources (DER) by installing record breaking amounts of DER technology. So much so, there were now two-way power flows. Because of this DER proliferation, utilities found they needed another type of management software to track what is taking place BTM; the distributed energy resource management systems (DERMS) filled the need. Let’s look at DERMS a little more closely. One of the best definitions of DERMS comes from Navigant Research: “DERMS is a control system that enables optimized control of the grid and DER to the extent that a utility may be able to dispatch and control DER. To minimize disruptions and the presence of phantom loads, utilities need to manage the grid more proactively.” Managing DERs is necessity because of the dynamic explosion of the BTM-DER segment. Where once the distribution network was the last link to the customer, it has now become an important part of the electric power producing infrastructure. It’s a portion that is producing enormous amounts of megawatts (MW). These MWs need monitoring and coordinating with other grid resources, but doing that requires synchronization between ADMS and DERMS platforms.

Virtual View

Integrating DERMS and ADMS into one platform is a natural progression and reduces complexity. In effect, the ADMS-DERMS combination opened new levels of visibility, monitoring, and control for both sides of the meter. It provided a virtual view from the substation through the feeder and beyond the meter. Most importantly, the distribution operator only needed one platform to understand what was taking place on the system, but it also brought the big-data topic back into to focus. Multiple standalone platforms each require data mining to provide the information necessary for their functioning. In the days prior to ADMS and DERMS schemes, keeping all of this data synchronized was not a priority, but that all changed when ADMS-DERMS systems were introduced. Having each of the databases as a separate entity with a different format and maintained independently is a challenge. Keeping it uncomplicated, ADMS and DERMS are user-friendly because of digital twin technology, but that is not the case if multiple standalone platforms have multiple standalone digital twins. It’s compounded when each of these digital twins are similar siblings that look alike rather than actually being identical twins. This is the case with numerous databases maintained by multiple parts of the enterprise who have different needs, goals, and resources. This glitch is getting more attention from stakeholders as they realize something is needed to bring order to the look-alike digital twins. In addition, these twins and their databases have, unintentionally, become the equivalent of virtual silos, but there is a technological solution.

ADMS-DERMS Awareness

Simplistically, it’s done by using narrow artificial intelligence (AI) technology like machine learning and deep learning to address the twin resemblance and virtual silo issues. The AI-infused ADMS-DERMS technology identifies and consolidates all of enterprise’s digital twins’ databases, but not consolidation in the typical sense of the word. AI’s algorithms understand what is being searched for and finds all of the most relevant information for that search. This technique doesn’t need to copy, move, transform, or combine data, it is faster and simpler in the long run. It makes the ADMS-DERMS platform efficient and readily available. Recently, Navigant Research published a report examining some of the manufacturers providing ADMS-DERMS applications. Navigant explained the reason for the report as, “The competitive landscape for ADMSs is unique given the extensive requirements and growing list of modules captured under the ADMS umbrella. This has led to a smaller, more refined pool of vendors, including traditional, large OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) as well as smaller, more nimble vendors making inroads around managed services and cooperative and public utility targeting.”Navigant rated GE Digital’s DER-Aware ADMS platform as the #1 ADMS application. Open Systems International, Inc., Schneider Electric SE, Oracle Corp., and Siemens AG rounded out the companies in the leader category. ABB, ACS-Indra, ETAP, and Survalent were registered as contenders. Navigant said, “All of the vendors are included within the contenders or leaders section, indicating a fiercely competitive landscape and an increasing need to differentiate. Each of the vendors in these two categories present unique value propositions around their solutions that affect utility system selection.” ADMS-DERMS represents a new way of interacting with the distribution system. Talking to Jim Walsh, the general manager of Grid Software for GE Digital, put the Navigant ranking into a better perspective. Walsh said, “The Navigant Research Leaderboard ranks nine ADMS vendors based on a spectrum of 10 strategy and execution criteria. Vendors are profiled, rated, and ranked with the goal of providing an objective assessment of their relative strengths and weaknesses in the global ADMS market.”Walsh went on to say, “GE Digital’s ADMS combines SCADA, and GIS with OMS. It also includes DERMS awareness because of the challenges renewables present utilities. Utilities can’t see 100 views at once, so they have to be incorporated into a single platform that it has to be a very accurate model of the physical world, which is updated continuously to deliver secure, integrated operations across the distribution grid.” The interface between the customer and the electric power supply has been described as the edge of the grid, but digital technology has changed all that. With the expanding capacity of customer owned DER systems, the power supply has become bidirectional and the idea of a grid’s edge is expanding along with its complexity. It could be said that the customer has forced distribution operators to reach beyond the meter with monitoring, control, and coordination. The integration of ADMS and DERMS technologies into one package has made all the difference in overcoming the challenges this represents. Some experts are predicting this technology will open the way for more DER on the distribution system, which will benefit everyone involved!

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