Intelligent Distribution

Jan. 2, 2007
The intelligent utility of tomorrow will buy a complete distribution management system package out of the box, according to Mark Dudzinski, GE Energy’s general manager of marketing

The intelligent utility of tomorrow will buy a complete distribution management system package out of the box, according to Mark Dudzinski, GE Energy’s general manager of marketing. The integrated software will consist of intelligent monitoring, diagnosing and controlling of the distribution systems capable of data mining, managing outages, managing projects and optimizing workforce responsibilities. Dudzinski says that this will provide customers with increasingly reliable service at reduced costs.

Tom Helmer, solutions architect for Enspiria Solutions Inc., points out that many of today’s utilities have software applications that operate well by themselves but don’t interact well with other programs. Helmer says that it is possible to build “bridge” applications that allow the functional older software programs to work with each other as well as the newer schemes in a horizontal configuration. In effect, this would make a utility’s older system perform much like today’s state-of-the-art integrated enterprise software systems, which would allow the utility to phase in new software while taking advantage of the software it already owns.

Premium Grid power

WE Energies piloted the Distribution Vision 2010, LLC (DV2010) initiative, which is made up of like-minded companies including Alliant Energy, Salt River Project, Oklahoma Gas & Electric, American Electric Power, Long Island Power Authority and BC Hydro. Together, they fund research and development of distribution systems using intelligent technology.

The group envisions the way an intelligent distribution network might be designed and operated and is working toward that goal. DV2010 has a microgrid demonstration site in Wisconsin that provides a network to feed industrial parks. The microgrid has design features enabling the network to anticipate or detect problems. Furthermore, it is capable of performing switching to reduce or eliminate the impact of customers on the network by partitioning the network into automated control areas.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has established the Modern Grid Initiative through its Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability and the National Energy Technology Laboratory. The goal of the initiative is the visualization of the modern grid.

Steve Pullins, leader of the Modern Grid Initiative team, says that from 1995 to 2005 there were 600 distribution automation pilot projects in North America. Of that number, only one has been deployed. Pullins describes it as “pilotitis.” One of the biggest blocks to deployment has been the proprietary nature of past systems and the utility engineer’s mindset of “it hasn’t been tested here” (also referred to as “analysis paralysis”). EPRI has formed the IntelliGrid Consortium, a combination of U.S. utilities, international utilities, public agencies and manufacturers, to address this issue. The IntelliGrid’s architecture is mandated to be open based on accepted industry standards for integrating power and communication systems in an effort to improve reliability, power quality and security.

A collaboration of technology innovators, including Hewlett-Packard, Intel, GE Energy, Cisco Systems and Oracle, led by Capgemini formed the Smart Energy Alliance (SEA). Capgemini began by developing a road map of the electrical distribution system. Doug Houseman, SEA’s team leader, said that early investigations did not uncover any technology on the horizon that would replace the grid.

That left SEA with the challenge of formulating ways to “get smarter” in operating the system. SEA found the best method was to communicate to industry-standard equipment using a modular approach with open architecture. Because alliance members consider themselves industry leaders in their fields, the team brings cross-industry experience to the effort. SEA initially focused on available components to maximize utilization and reduce costs. A common communications system was selected to reduce costs and take advantage of existing systems, thus allowing the entire system to communicate with subsystems and share information and data across the enterprise.

It is possible to have real-time distribution system information, as well as control of the utility’s network assets managed from the utility’s operation center via the substation to the customer’s location. One such application from SEA is the distribution monitoring and control system named the Event Monitor, which uses advanced metering, demand response, switch control outage/restoration management, fault detection and distribution management all presented in a dashboard display.

According to Pullins of the Modern Grid Initiative, 90% of the outages occur on the distribution system. He points out that we need networks in distribution such as those found in the transmission grid. Houseman of SEA also sees the need to be more like the transmission system with multiple sources and paths at the feeder level. The SEA approach is an automated feeder system with intelligent switching and automatic load balancing on the distribution system. Capgemini studies show that the typical utility feeder network has about 19% of the power going to ground due to unbalancing. Imagine getting 19% more power without adding generation to the system.

Rethinking our process

Reliability and service cannot improve without changing the way the industry does business — it doesn’t do much good to automate the same old process. Most utilities have procedures that have been in place for decades. The trick is to recognize the unnecessary process and eliminate it. Process should take advantage of technology and be more efficient. Unfortunately, it can be used to stop the evolution to a better way of operating.

Many utilities have recognized the limitations of the old vertical organization (silo approach) and are taking advantage of the advanced enterprise software packages to integrate the internal systems and eliminate organizational barriers. These utilities are unifying their workforce, flattening their organizations, reducing costs and improving customer service. The enterprise software has allowed for efficient balancing of office and field work, making a cohesive labor pool rather than many different groups in separate organizations. The insightful use of intelligent electronic devices and advanced software solutions saves money, while enabling greater productivity and flexibility through elimination of redundant data and unnecessary processes.

About the Author

Gene Wolf

Gene Wolf has been designing and building substations and other high technology facilities for over 32 years. He received his BSEE from Wichita State University. He received his MSEE from New Mexico State University. He is a registered professional engineer in the states of California and New Mexico. He started his career as a substation engineer for Kansas Gas and Electric, retired as the Principal Engineer of Stations for Public Service Company of New Mexico recently, and founded Lone Wolf Engineering, LLC an engineering consulting company.  

Gene is widely recognized as a technical leader in the electric power industry. Gene is a fellow of the IEEE. He is the former Chairman of the IEEE PES T&D Committee. He has held the position of the Chairman of the HVDC & FACTS Subcommittee and membership in many T&D working groups. Gene is also active in renewable energy. He sponsored the formation of the “Integration of Renewable Energy into the Transmission & Distribution Grids” subcommittee and the “Intelligent Grid Transmission and Distribution” subcommittee within the Transmission and Distribution committee.

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