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Top Five Technological Advancements Needed for a Future Grid

June 16, 2018
To keep pace with the global demand, we must equip and modernize our grid with hardware and software innovations

According to the 2017 International Energy Outlook report, world energy consumption is expected to grow by 28 percent between 2014 and 2040. However, our current electrical grid system will not be able to compete with the increased energy demand due to outdated infrastructure built to manage a uniform flow of electricity primarily produced by coal, petroleum and natural gas.

To keep pace with the global demand, we must equip and modernize our grid with hardware and software innovations to ensure a smarter, faster and more efficient flow of energy. This will not only revive our current systems, but also help utilities and consumers realize the economic and environmental potential of a digital grid.

While there have been significant updates made to our electrical grid infrastructure over the last several years, here are five key technological advancements that will propel the next-generation grid forward:

1. Transition from individual devices and systems to holistic solutions

Utilities are increasingly demanding sets of technology components that are integrated together to meet their technical and business needs. Because of this, utilities will need to take a holistic approach for grid modernization, breaking down the silos of their individual groups. There are greater benefits to the utility when all groups work together so that they can share data and exchange findings from devices, applications and data-bases.

2. Greater integration of microgrids and distributed generation

Utilities are increasingly focused on microgrids to improve grid resiliency. By breaking one grid into multiple grids, microgrids can operate islanded with their own generation. These microgrids can then continue to operate, providing the utility greater resiliency since a fault in the system will not shut the entire grid down. The ability to manage energy from diverse power sources that are generated locally will continue to grow in importance, leading to greater efficiency and lower costs of operation. Smart grid standards will remain paramount to the successful integration and interoperability of these energy resources.

3. More Advanced Distribution Management System (ADMS) software applications

The grid of the future will require an Advanced Distribution Management System, made up of real-time, analytical and ancillary applications. These software applications will help manage the increased challenges of distributed generation, such as open circuit overvoltage due to unintentional islanding, protection ratings not matched to fault currents, fault currents due to intermittency of distributed generation and stress on voltage regulation equipment.

4. Leveraging of big data, analytics, enterprise data management

To create the grid of the future, IoT devices and cloud-based data management platforms will need to be leveraged in order to develop new analytics and facilitate IT/OT convergence to enable enterprise data management. The delivery of real-time information and near instantaneous balance of supply and demand will be key to increasing efficiency, productivity and optimization of the grid. By utilizing this, grid operators will be able to clearly identify and manage various types of operational and non-operational data, reaping additional benefits like cost savings and efficiency.

5. Increased use of feeder automation models

The increased emphasis on grid resiliency is driving industry trends such as grid “self-healing.” Today, utilities are not able to implement the intelligence required to transition from their present level of automation to the ultimate “digitized grid” in one step largely due to financial and skill resource limitations. However, leveraging feeder automation models are a viable intermediate step that can provide significant benefits. For example, when a utility begins with manual control and legacy methods for feeder automation and converts to a remote control and monitoring (SCADA) experience, they can achieve a 28 percent savings in Customer Minutes Interrupted (CMI). When the utility shifts to an automation and visualization model, the company can experience a 43 percent savings in CMI. The ultimate goal for the utility would be to transition into a digitally enabled distribution network so that they can achieve over a 50 percent savings in CMI. 

Years of smart grid developments have provided an opportunity to learn from initial assumptions and deployment strategies to identify changes and ensure the grid is able to deliver energy continuously. As electricity needs fluctuate across the globe and energy demand grows, the need for a more resilient and reliable smart grid will become increasingly important. By placing a renewed focus on these technological advancements and making the grid of the future a reality, we can lower energy costs, reduce the environmental footprint, and ensure that people around the world have access to the power they need every single day.

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