Building a smart grid roadmap

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The electric power infrastructure is under pressure, and “smart grids” represent a response to growth in energy demand; worry over energy cost, power quality and reliability in a digital society; aging utility workforce and infrastructure; physical and cyber security; and environmental concerns. Among other challenges, these all combine to drive the development of a highly automated, modernised power delivery system underpinned by an advanced communications system.

A wealth of information on smart grid subjects is available; conferences are being held around the world, and private, government, and combined public-private efforts have been undertaken to create a vision for the investments that need to be made. But many utilities are searching for pragmatic guidance on establishing a smart grid implementation roadmap. The Utilities Telecom Council (UTC) recently published a new report, “Smart Grids: Building a Strategic Technology Roadmap”, to help utilities prepare for the massive planning efforts needed to develop a plan to meet smart grid goals. It is the latest in a list of UTC publications that includes “The Next Steps to the Next-Generation Utility”, “Advanced Metering Infrastructure: Smart Metering Meets the Smart Grid”, and “Substation Communications: Enabler of Automation”. This article attempts to weld learning lessons and highlights of the findings to date to help senior utility management to build effective planning efforts.

SMART GRID APPLICATIONS

For the utility, smart grid implementation benefits – and returns on investment – are promised by the fact that, as automation advances, utility operations will require increasingly less human interference, while the efficiency and reliability of the system increases (Figure 1).

Utilities are now automating systems by integrating information management technologies with customer meters and with grid assets by implementing three broad classes of applications (Table 1):

  1. Advanced metering infrastructure (AMR/AMI)
  2. Supply automation, and
  3. Supply control and optimisation.

AMR/AMI APPLICATIONS

Utilities need more accurate consumer use data to support management decisions regarding pricing, production, purchase and distribution of their services. Automated meter reading (AMR) refers only to technologies that eliminate the need for a human meter reader to visit consumer premises, while advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) refers to the entire combination of devices, software, and processes that are used in the collection, warehousing, processing, delivery and use of meter reading information.

 

SMART GRID 2

Figure 1- Smart grid implementation benefits (Source: The Shpigler Group)

SUPPLY AUTOMATION APPLICATIONS

Supply automation attempts to extend “intelligent” control over electric/water/gas supply from beginning to end. Utility supply is sent out in what is referred to as a “substantial load” that is subsequently divided into smaller flows for retail distribution through a network of substations. Supply automation aims to ensure the reliability of the supply system as well as to make operations faster, safer and more cost effective throughout this supply network

SUPPLY CONTROL AND OPTIMISATION APPLICATIONS

Supply control and optimisation emphasises the automation of control over utility hardware through data collected by an advanced communications network. A supply control and optimisation system collects data from all supply substations and consolidates it into a single database where the data is transformed into graphics, alarms, and “dynamic text displays” for human use.

Utilities are likely to pursue a gradual pace of automation that takes into account their unique requirements, challenges, size, budget, market, regulations and a number of other factors. Most utilities begin to automate by implementing the application(s) calculated to result in the greatest efficiency gains. A utility that has a high turnover of human meter readers, for instance, may invest in meter reading technologies, while a utility with a history of supply outages would rather implement supply optimisation applications.

The ultimate vision for the utility industry is to develop a “self-healing” grid that links together the full set of automated applications, connecting electricity assets with computers to create a highly automated, responsive and resilient power delivery system. This intelligent, self-healing grid will continuously send, receive and process data on system condition and components’ health, and pass information among intelligent electronic devices, generators, system operators, and even marketers and consumers.

COMMUNICATIONS NETWORKS: CRITICAL ENABLERS OF “SMART” APPLICATIONS

APLICATION GRAPH

Table 1-Applications for utility automation

Communications networks serve as the blood vessels of the automation and information system of the smart grid. Communications establish a platform for automation devices to exchange information, and for enabling the elements of the utility’s network and operational departments to work together. In fact, a workable definition for a smart grid could be an “intelligent” utility network enabled by end-to-end, overlapping networks tied to “smart” devices and sensors (Figure 2).

“Smart devices” in close proximity to customers – such as smart meters, smart home appliances, remote terminal units (RTUs), video cameras, and sensors – capture key data and information from the customer and the network and relay it to “middleware” or process control systems such as Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems. The middleware then forwards the data/information to an operational department where the data is interpreted and appropriate responses are sent back to the smart devices at the periphery.

The communications network thus supplies critical voice and data communications between people, hardware, and software whenever, and wherever, needed. Utilities can use various communications technologies for system automation: fixed and wireless communications, Power Line Communications (PLC), or Broadband over Power Line (BPL), fibre optics, microwave, and other communications technologies are available to satisfy primary, backbone and backhaul communications needs. Each technology has strengths and weaknesses when applied to specific utility applications.

Many variables will ultimately determine the optimal technology mix to best support the complete smart grid vision. Most utilities will opt for a hybrid approach to communications infrastructures. Differences in geography, terrain, and customer density and requirements are best addressed through a suite of communications technologies. Further, a multi-tiered communication platform enables logical and physical separation of services, increases the integrity of grid operations, mitigates technology obsolescence, allows for all utility assets to be economically reached, and makes it easier to evolve the infrastructure over time.

The real-time nature of grid information will command a well-considered blend of enterprise networking, application integration and standardisation over an advanced Internet Protocol (IP)-based network. An effective utility communications network must provide the packet-based intelligence required to support new services that will likely be IP-based.

VISION AND SMART GRID TECHNOLOGY ROADMAP

As is often noted, no two utilities are the same. Utilities serve different geographic areas: some urban, some rural, some mountainous, etc. Some utilities have many end-users per square kilometre, as in Manhattan, while others have endusers spread out by tens and hundreds of kilometres; some utilities serve farmers, while others serve factories or offices where electrical service failure could prove disastrous for production and profits.

External drivers, such as the perspectives of state regulators, local and national consumer groups, consumer uptake of new technologies and web-based applications, will affect how utilities recover the large investments required. Internal drivers may also differ by utility, such as the characteristics of the utility and its customers, and the type of technology systems already in place.

Nonetheless, a generic process for development of a utility’s Vision and Smart Grid Strategic Technology Roadmap can be broken down into four basic steps:

  • Step 1:Preparation
  • Step 2: Definition of internal and external drivers that will affect a utility’s Vision and Smart Grid Strategic Technology Roadmap
  • Step 3: Creation of a Vision (eg based on five-year increments over a period of 15 years)
  • Step 4: Creation of a Smart Grid Strategic Technology Roadmap that supports the Vision.

PREPARATION

As a minimum, preparation for a road-mapping effort of this magnitude should consist of a committee responsible for developing the vision and a working group with task forces to create the smart grid strategic technology roadmap. The stakeholders involved need to be identified and their involvement on the task forces needs to be clarified.

For specific issues, it may be beneficial to invite external stakeholders to participate – as an outside facilitator or subject matter expert, for instance.

DEFINITION OF INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL DRIVERS THAT WILL AFFECT A UTILITY’S VISION AND SMART GRID STRATEGIC TECHNOLOGY ROADMAP

The steps for defining the most important internal and external drivers for a particular utility include an analysis of:

  • The regulatory framework affecting decisions, including an analysis of key variables related to federal and state actions and mandates encouraging and supporting smart grid applications choices.
  • Residential end-user attributes affecting smart grid applications and technology.
  • End-user involvement in demand response (eg a high level of automation while leaving the end-user in charge of demand response actions) properties.
  • Non-residential attributes affecting smart grid applications.
  • Geographical issues affecting smart grid technology, including climate, end-user density and terrain.
  • Technology factors that could play a role in the implementation of smart grid applications, including existing or available communication infrastructure, both private and public, and existing IT, automation, operations or other infrastructure.

CREATION OF A VISION

A vision for the implementation of smart grid concepts at a specific utility will consist of a high-level plan for the implementation of applications and technologies. For a hypothetical utility that delivers power to residential and commercial end-users, has access to wind energy, and is located in an area where photovoltaic generation is feasible, an example of a vision for the implementation of a smart grid could be as follows:

SHEMATIC GRID

Figure 2- Shematic of a smart grid Source: UTC Research.

Utility Vision 2010:

  • Have smart meters installed at 30% of the end-user locations.
  • Have real-time prices for energy sent to 30% of end-users to facilitate end-user response to real-time prices and realtime pricing of energy use.
  • Have critical peak pricing information sent to 30% of endusers to facilitate end-user response to critical peak pricing.
  • Have equipment installed at 30% of end-user locations to support demand response to provide peak shaving and minimisation of end-user cost of energy at an acceptable comfort level. Demand response should be automatic, requiring minimal end-user involvement.
  • For residential end-users, as a minimum manage HVAC demand in response to real-time pricing signals.
  • For non-residential end-users, optimise each end-user demand response considering the characteristics of the enduser load.
  • Participation of end-users in a market other than for participation of large commercial loads in a wholesale market is not foreseen.
  • Implement reporting of relevant demand response statistics to end-users, including participation, energy savings, peak load reduction, and cost savings.
  • 5% of the demand is provided by wind generation.
  • Rulemaking is in place to support this level of smart grid implementation.

“Many variables will ultimately determine the optimal technology mix to best support the complete smart grid vision.”

Utility Vision 2015:

  • Have smart meters installed at 100% of the end-user locations.
  • Have real-time prices for energy sent to 100% of end-users to facilitate end-user response to real-time prices and realtime pricing of energy use.
  • Have critical peak pricing information sent to 100% of endusers to facilitate end-user response to critical peak pricing.
  • Have equipment installed at 100% of end-user locations to support demand response to provide peak shaving and minimisation of end-user cost of energy at an acceptable comfort level. Demand response should be automatic, requiring minimal end-user involvement. Residential equipment including HVAC, swimming pools, and all other appliances that are controllable should participate in demand response.
  • Participation of end-users in a market other than for participation of large commercial loads in a wholesale market is not foreseen.
  • Implement retrieval of all information by the utility necessary to meet regulatory reporting requirements.
  • Upgrade or replace the existing distribution management system and outage management system as well as associated business processes to fully utilise information available from end-user connection points and at other locations in the distribution system.
  • Define additional measuring points in the distribution network to maximise the effectiveness of distribution management and outage management applications, building on the communication infrastructure that is in place for supporting end-user demand response.
  • Implement non-critical load reduction to maintain integrity of the transmission grid, considering congestion management, voltage collapse prevention, and under frequency load shedding.
  • Install photovoltaic roofing systems on all new residential and commercial construction.
  • 10% of the demand is provided by wind generation.
  • Of all noncommercial vehicles, 10% are plug-in hybrid electrical vehicles charging batteries during hours with low real-time prices.
  • Regulatory rulemaking is in place to support this level of smart grid implementation.

Utility Vision 2020:

  • Participation of end-users in a market.
  • Photovoltaic roofing systems installed at 30% of residential and commercial end-users.
  • 20% of the demand is provided by wind generation.
  • Of all noncommercial vehicles, 30% are plug-in hybrid electrical vehicles charging batteries during hours with low real-time prices.
  • Implementation of energy storage as well as control of non-critical load to manage high penetration of intermittent resources. Consider non-critical load control to provide regulation and spinning reserves.
  • Regulatory rulemaking is in place to support this level of smart grid implementation.

CREATION OF A SMART GRID STRATEGIC TECHNOLOGY ROADMAP THAT SUPPORTS THE VISION

A well developed roadmap will include several key elements. The applications that are recommended for realising each of the vision statements should be outlined, as well as the preferred supporting technology for each one of the applications (including the preferred supporting communication and IT infrastructure) for each one of the applications.

An economic analysis, or business case, will be presented that will provide answers to questions such as:

  • Is it economically justifiable to do this?
  • Who will pay for what and how?
  • Are there subsidies available?
  • How much will this cost?
  • How much is the annual cost?
  • How much will the annual revenue be?
  • What is the overall budget for realising the vision?

A feasibility analysis should be included that provides answers to questions such as:

  • Is the supporting technology available and mature or will developments be needed?
  • Are there needs for regulatory rule-making to define who pays for what and how services provided by the utility and the end-user will be settled?
  • Are there legal implications?

In addition, pilot projects, as well as their expected outcome, should be discussed. In particular, demand response and distributed generation management should be outlined, including a definition of end-user and utility responsibilities. Any technical implications for operating the distribution or the power system as a whole due to the implementation of solutions identified in the roadmap should be discussed, and possible risk and mitigation options should be presented.

In summary, a well-executed smart grid strategic technology road mapping process will produce the following key documents that will guide smart grid implementation over a number of years:

  • Communications master plan.
  • Demand response technology master plan.
  • Financial master plan including costs, benefits and guidelines for the financing of specific smart grid steps.
  • Implementation master plan with detailed scheduling of an implementation project.
  • Regulatory report that describes solutions for meeting regulatory requirements as well as identifies regulatory gaps that need to be addressed before implementation of particular elements of the roadmap can fully take place.
  • Guidelines for a utility’s customer relations department on customer involvement.
  • High-level functional requirements that can be used in the solicitation of vendor inputs and proposals.