The Technologically Enabled Power Grid - Benefits for Utilities

Vijayan SR, Asst Vice President- Grid Automation, Power Grids Division, ABB India

The advent of renewable energy, driven by policy, disruptive technology innovation and cost reduction has brought about an energy revolution. The earlier unidirectional grid has become bi-directional, and must accommodate new sources of generation such as energy from a rooftop, a wind farm or a micro-grid in a village – essentially energy which combines solar, wind, and other generation modes. This shift has introduced distributed or localized generation of power, increased the role of retail customers, improved focus on power quality, and laid emphasis on the need for new technologies around digitalization and storage solutions.

The challenge for utilities is to keep pace with the rapid evolution of the power grid, minimize Aggregate Technical & Commercial (AT&C) losses, and mitigate grid disturbances which have a wide impact. The blackout in July 2012 which plunged 21 states across India into darkness brought home to the industry the undeniable need for operational transformation. In addition, consumers now demand 24x7 power qualities as the minimum expectation. Digitalization will also offer end consumers more control to manage their power consumption via easy apps.

With so many compelling reasons to become pro-active rather than reactive, utilities need to embrace operational transformation. To do this, there are various technologies and solutions that enhance operation and decision making through increased situational awareness in terms of depth of network visibility and monitoring capabilities.

So, how can utilities commence the journey of transformation from grid automation to complete digitalization? Here are some of the technologies that can enable the grid to leap frog into the digital era.

Communications infrastructure forms the basis of the Internet of Things and is fundamental to smart technology. Communications between field devices and the control center executing the automation applications is critical to a power system because it serves as the backbone for real time information exchange. Combined with distributed intelligence, telecommunications make it possible to report and resolve grid issues in real time. While the popular GPRS networks can be easily implemented and involves less initial costs, a wireless mesh is a more reliable, scalable and secure network for real time data transfer. Both wired (optic fiber) and wireless (mesh radio) solutions are available and should be implemented when building a grid infrastructure, rather than using the traditional method of setting communication links for each application as and when they get implemented.

"Substation Automation (SA) and Digital Substations enable utilities to reduce the need for copper cabling, resulting in material savings, shorter installation times, reduced space requirements"

Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition Systems (SCADA) and Distribution Management Systems/ Outage Management Systems (DMS/OMS) technologies put more analysis and control functions in the hands of grid operators. SCADA systems monitor and supervise thousands of points in remote terminals on national and regional grids. They can perform network modeling, simulate power operation, pinpoint faults, preempt outages and participate in energy trading markets. SCADA can increase operation efficiency by 50 percent and reduce customer minutes lost by 70 percent.

Fault location and isolation can speed recovery when outages occur by allowing work crews to drastically narrow the search for a downed line.

Microgrid solutions help properly utilize distributed generation resources catering to a localized area and efficiently manage grid stabilization and energy storage solutions in both grid-connected and off-grid mode.

Substation Automation (SA) and Digital Substations enable utilities to reduce the need for copper cabling, resulting in material savings, shorter installation times, reduced space requirements, increased safety with digitized field data and lower maintenance requirements.

Smart meters and Advance Metering Infrastructure (AMI) allows utility customers to participate in time-of-use pricing programs and gives them greater control over their energy usage and costs.

Wide area monitoring system (WAMS) collects phase-angle in­formation about grid conditions in real time at strategic locations. Ac­curate time stamps provided by GPS allow enhanced network analysis by incorporating phasor data to detect any instability.

Flexible AC Transmission System (FACTS) devices compensate the line inductance for maximum power transfer (series compensation) and provide power flow control capability.

Asset Management and Condition Based Maintenance software solutions such as Asset Health Center provides a new industry standard for end-to-end condition-based maintenance that can help utilities ensure the reliability of critical infrastructure assets upon which the nation’s power grid depends.

With the implementation of grid automation technologies, utilities must also pay attention to security. When Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT) are integrated, OT systems which were earlier in a secure perimeter (physical and electronic) now interact with the external world making it imperative to have solutions that are not only interoperable but also secure. As a result, cyber security for automation in electric utilities must include measures to detect, protect and respond with cyber security policies and processes implemented to assess and mitigate risks and respond to incidents.

Implementing automation tech­nologies along with added secu­rity measures will make present day grids more resilient, responsive and reliable. It will also balance the im­perative of clean energy with the growth objectives of the econo­my and will support the efforts of enabling a stronger, smarter and greener grid.