Smart Grid Evolution, Not Revolution

May 1, 2012
The progress to date of smart grid projects funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the U.S. Department of Energy, as well as various

The progress to date of smart grid projects funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the U.S. Department of Energy, as well as various other smart grid implementations across the United States, has taught the utility industry one clear thing: smart grid is all about evolution, not revolution. Sector growth and product options have exploded with the onset of big data, faster communications, and management and reporting capable devices that Utilimetrics has long envisioned.

In 2012, utilities have a myriad of options to define, develop and ultimately roll out a smart grid program. However, with these purchasing decisions comes a magnitude of challenges. Utilities must address how to integrate and manage the metering infrastructure, outage management software, meter data management applications, in-home automation, distribution automation as well as the associated management applications that spotlight network and device health. Ultimately, these decisions could drive the data mining and analysis activities that determine the distribution system operational efficiency and long-term feeder reliability.

For example, many utilities across the United States have transitioned from one monthly register read to technologies that support time-of-use rates from usage data obtained at a minimum of five-minute intervals. This brings with it complex communications and marketing campaigns. The goal of these campaigns is to educate and encourage customer participation in demand-response programs, as well as share an internal vision of the value and underlying drivers to obtain and efficiently manage data down to such specific intervals. The configuration decisions associated with these meters dictates and drives value for other upstream systems looking for indicators of power quality, feeder health and revenue assurance.

Demand for Teamwork

This vision of a “connected grid” is now driven by the idea of a “connected utility.” Engineers concerned with power quality indicators, IT professionals concerned with network performance, business analysts concerned with reliability indicators and financial analysts looking at financial drivers must now work together to develop their smart grid footprint. This level of inter-utility teamwork is required to determine device capabilities, configurations and calculations that can be developed to expose the inter-device relationships and ultimately provide the full value of a smart grid. A simple example is voltage sensing at the transformer and meter to generate exception reports indicating voltage-regulation needs.

Emergence of Data Analytics

The example above speaks to another trend just starting to evolve in the smart grid market: distributed intelligence. Remote analytics and the appropriate automation provided via the short-term storage of device data and local data processing requires device integration and embedded intelligence into the distribution system.

This and real-time processing of data in the field, rather than in a utility's back office, requires vendor relationships, open frameworks and cross-utility vision of how the distribution system is managed and reported on. The distribution intelligence example is rapidly growing along with intelligence downstream from the meter into the customer's home, supporting customer information, energy management and distributed resources.

Partnership Between Utilimetrics and Utilities

The task of building a smart grid road map is no small feat. It requires visionary leadership as well as utility expertise around the purchasing decisions, device configurations, and data mining and analytics activities. Plus, there is so much to be gained from learning about each other's experiences.

Utilimetrics is a trade association of utilities, consultants, vendors and other professionals engaged in or considering utility automation. For decades, Utilimetrics has supported the industry as it has progressed from manual meter reading, to automatic meter reading, then advanced metering technologies, and now advanced distribution and home technologies. As Utilimetrics continues to evolve its role in supporting the smart grid market, data management and analytics will drive the future.

Dave Scott ([email protected]) is the treasurer of Utilimetrics, the world's premier utility automation association. For the last 25 years, Utilimetrics has provided information and educational programs for utility professionals about innovative technologies that lead to improved operations, customer service and resource utilization. He is a senior project manager at SAIC and helps utilities develop business cases, procure and deploy AMI and smart grid systems.

Editor's note: Learn more about the smart grid future as well as lessons learned from your utility peers about advanced metering infrastructure and smart grid deployments by attending Autovation 2012, Sept. 30-Oct. 3, 2012, in Long Beach, California, U.S.

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