Reliability remains top priority in grid modernisation efforts


The electric grid operations and business model are in a state of genuine transition. As a result, utility organisations are faced with increasing pressure from changing social, business and technological dynamics.

Consulting and systems integration company BRIDGE Energy Group, released its 2017 Utility Industry Grid Modernisation Survey, marking the third year the company has surveyed utilities specifically on grid modernisation efforts, the progress made and the challenges they face. This year’s survey, reaching over 20,000 utility employees throughout North America, reveals an 11% increase over 2016 survey results, of utility companies developing a grid modernisation plan – with 91% of the respondents indicating they clearly understand the associated benefits and targeted outcomes.

“Grid modernisation is now mainstream and an active part of utility strategy driving a broad spectrum of changes in regulatory policy and the utility business model, and requiring investments in new real-time technologies and infrastructure,” said Mike Bianco, VP, Grid Operations Practice at BRIDGE.

“We are encouraged to see that a clear mapping of utility strategic goals to required capabilities and enabling technologies is providing clear value in stakeholder alignment and investment planning.”

The 2017 BRIDGE Index Utility Industry Survey on Grid Modernisation also revealed that 84% of responding utilities are exploring new business models; and that maintaining or improving reliability is a top priority in utility grid modernisation efforts.

Deployment of ADMS

Advanced Distribution Management Systems (ADMS), says BRIDGE, are “enabling distributed energy resource (DER) integration and control, a key capability of grid modernisation. Broad adoption of ADMS, as well as advancements in interoperability standards and regulatory policy will help accelerate grid modernisation.”

An example is Pacific Gas & Electric’s (PG&E) demonstration project in San Jose, California, aimed at evaluating how energy storage and/ or smart inverters used with customer-sited solar can be controlled and coordinated through grid management technology.

PG&E is seeking to obtain data on how DERMS and the DERs can work together to provide solutions for high DER penetration use cases.

One major goal of the demonstration is to evaluate to what extent distributed energy resource management system (DERMS) technology enhances the stability and power quality of the grid as well as optimizes solar generation and power-flow management as more customers adopt solar and energy storage.

According to PG&E, “ The distributed energy resource (DER) demonstration projects in San Jose represents a microcosm of what the smart grid will look like and how it will operate in the future when energy storage, smart inverters, solar, electric vehicles and other distributed energy resources will become increasingly prevalent and seemingly ubiquitous.

“To that end this project helps PG&E learn about the people, processes and technologies required to safely and reliably operate the grid of the future.” Reponses to the BRIDGE survey also indicated that microgrids form a key part of utility grid modernisation efforts, which assists in 1) improving reliability and resilience for a group of customers (e.g. a feeder or substation); 2) integrating distributed generation and 3) improving reliability and resilience for critical customers.

New business models and grid analytics

Grid modernisation not only lends itself toward the integration of new technologies and resources, but also toward the creation of new business models and services.

“Utilities are clearly exploring new business models across a diverse range of options.

To adequately prepare, utilities must clearly understand the full depths of their current capabilities as well as their strategic goals,” says BRIDGE.

Some of the new business models being explored by utilities include:

• Affiliate company providing unregulated energy services

• Considering creating a business to provide unregulated energy services

• Experimenting with implementation and ownership of distributed energy resources and/or microgrids

• Developing capabilities to become a distributed systems platform provider or Integration Platform

• Exploring a transition to performance based regulation for our traditional delivery business

The digital grid of the future will rely more heavily on information to improve grid reliability, energy affordability and customer choice. Analytics is key to unlocking the potential of the digital grid and must be part of any successful grid modernisation strategy, says BRIDGE, noting that 97% of survey respondents expect an increase in grid analytics from and for their grid modernisation plans.

Top implementation issues impacting grid modernisation initiatives

According to survey’s findings, there are two primary challenges impacting planned and ongoing grid modernisation initiatives, namely: the integration of related systems/data and limitations with current systems/tools.

BRIDGE points out that most utilities do not have well documented or well understood data structures, data processes or data governance in place.

“They [utilities] struggle to identify the appropriate place within the enterprise data model that IoT data should be placed.

“Only about half of the utilities in the market have moved to a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) that readily enables integration of IoT devices, services, and data. Legacy point-to-point and hard-wired integration techniques do not handle asynchronous, intermittent, variable format integrations well,” says BRIDGE Energy Group.

“Standards are in some cases in place (IPv6, mDNS, AMQP, etc.) but many are still evolving in the IoT space. There are enough [standards] in place to provide a good foundation for IoT integration; however most utilities have still not defined, adopted and enforced mature standards (IPv6, IEC61850, CIM, etc.) within their organisations. A robust standards definition, lifecycle and governance process needs to be implemented so the technical community within utilities can agree on what’s used for production, what’s used for pilots, and what’s coming on the horizon.”

Limitations with current systems/tools

Data Quality: data quality is the dirty little secret lurking in the corner of most legacy systems. Over time and successive updates, upgrades and changes the data can become incomplete, disjointed and flat out inaccurate.

Rarely is the time spent to develop and implement data quality, data vetting or data scrubbing applications/functions to ensure data quality. The downstream effects are that other systems which relay on data from the legacy system exacerbate the problem by passing on the poor quality data and often attach additional data to it.

• IoT systems have the potential to create the same data quality issues that legacy systems do but in a much shorter timeframe. IoT systems are traditionally ‘less managed’ by an owning entity, application or vendor and therefore the data has the opportunity to be misinterpreted easily and frequently.

• Existing software configuration and management toolsets have limited functionality and ‘reach’ into IoT devices.

This limits the visibility that infrastructure and security personnel may have into IoT device characteristics and performance.

It also limits their ability to manage those devices and their performance. This issue is expected to lessen as configuration management toolsets (Service Now, SmartFrog, etc.) mature in this space and cooperative agreements between deviceowners and device-service-users become mainstream.

“Systems integration and tools limitations are the most common challenges impeding Grid Modernisation project benefits realization.

Leveraging resources with utility-specific and cross-vendor experience can quickly overcome these issues to achieve desired business objectives,” concludes BRIDGE. MI