Operationalising the Smart Grid


Smart grid deployments are high profile missions.

Countries and DSOs initiating a smart grid project gain international recognition and, with a smart grid rollout, there is massive potential to achieve transformational business, social and economic outcomes that will be felt for decades ahead.

But once all the coverage has died down, and the smart grid is deployed, proven and accepted by the DSO, it then becomes an operational issue to maintain optimum system performance. And this long-term optimal performance is essential to achieving the anticipated business benefits, such as revenue generation, and technical and non-technical loss reduction, whilst providing a safe, secure and reliable energy service.

The challenge is that complex systems, such as a smart grid, tend to naturally “drift” away from an optimal configuration over time, as wear-and-tear, environment strain, damage/vandalism, misconnection, misconfiguration and operational errors accumulate. It is the role of operations to counter this “drift” and maintain the optimal configuration.

It is also the role of operations to recognise that the optimal configuration will change with time, as the pressures on the smart grid change through market and technology innovation. With the change particularly in the low-voltage grid to support storage, distributed generation, electric vehicles, smart homes, etc., it becomes more essential or even critical to define what “optimal” is and establish the systems and processes to track the evolving definition of “optimal”.

Once these challenges are addressed, there remains the on-going challenge of reducing the operational expense itself, often measured as an annual overhead per deployed meter. The expectation is that the operational expense per meter will reduce over time through natural economies of scale, business process improvements, information quality improvements and automation. So, it then becomes the role of the operations teams to improve the systems, processes and skills to ensure that this economy of scale is realised.

And, finally, there is the on-going challenge of maintain compliance with regulatory and committed SLAs. SAIDI Index (System Average Interruption Duration Index), SAIFI (System Average Interruption Frequency Index), ENS (Energy Not Supplied) and CEMI (Customers Experiencing Multiple Interruptions) are watched avidly by regulators and the consumers, and these are getting more difficult to maintain with the energy transition taking place now and in the future. Other KPIs which relate to resource, service and consumer facing process performance also need to be continuously monitored and improved.

Why Focus on Smart Grid Operations

The Smart Grid is a relatively new technological concept for the energy sector. The changes in the paradigm can be summed up very simply:

Obviously, the operational needs of Non-Smart and Smart Grids are very different. Applying the systems, information, processes, staffing and skills required to run a Non-Smart Grid to a Smart Grid would not be appropriate. It may even be disastrous.

However, effective operationalisation of smart grids is essential if the business benefits of a smart grid deployment are to be realised in the medium and long term, within a changing environment of market, technology innovation and regulatory change. Effective operations tools are required if the efficiencies of scale of operating the grid are to be leveraged and a programme of continuous process performance improvement is to be introduced.

Failure to update operational systems, information, processes, staffing and skills to align to the needs of a smart grid has the potential to waste the opportunity provided by a smart grid deployment.

Historic Approaches to Grid Operations

Prior to the introduction of smart grids, the infrastructure of the low-voltage grid is largely unmanaged. Substations may receive periodic checks, but the grid itself and the delivery of energy at the consumer is left largely to its own devices. The prevailing approach is to manage the failure rather than prevent the failure, but the problem is that, often, a failure is identified only through a consumer calling to complain.

This initiates problem solution processes at the back-end, often using paper records and schematics to triangulate towards a likely point of failure, based on the location of complaining consumers in the topology.

Capacity and asset management is, again, centered on managing the failures, and configuration management is largely unnecessary because the function of the equipment cannot be changed once deployed.

Security is limited to fraud management and physical asset security for the reason that there is no intelligence beyond the substation that can be exploited to perpetrate a cyber-attack.

In summary, low-voltage grid operations are reactive, manual, field-force intensive, dependent on paper records, focused on failure resolution rather than prevention, and using the consumer as the “sensor”. In fact, most DSOs are blind; they do not measure and do not know what is going on beyond the primary transformer.

Such an operations environment is clearly unsuitable for the Smart Grid.

The Need for Change – First Try

The Smart Grid exposes a vast amount of information to an operation support system and can expose a mass of commands for remote service control and remote infrastructure configurations for the operation support system to use.

Figure 1 – Evolution and Maturity of Operational Support Systems

If properly used, this bi-directional command and control capability can be used to operationalise the Smart Grid. Presence, location, status, configuration, alarm/event, health, security, accounting and performance information is exposed to operational support systems, information stores, processes and skilled teams allowing operational management of problems to transition from:

  • Reactive responses highly visible to and dependent on the consumer……. To……
  • Proactive prevention, mostly invisible and independent of the consumer.

These operational systems, processes and skilled teams can use the information received to implement capacity management processes, energy service delivery control, configuration update and even firmware update.

Not only is there now the potential to monitor and control; there is the potential to remotely configure the actual function of the devices on the smart grid.

But, how to manage all this?

The first approach was to take Meter Data Management Systems which focus on capturing all the information from AMI (not the smart grid, just the AMI components) and use this data to expose information and controls into an operational community. These tools tended to be heavy-weight platforms, focusing on information storage and retrieval, for the purposes of exposure into billing and CRM platforms, rather than focusing on the operational needs of the smart grid.

The result was a set of operational tools that tended to be time-consuming, costly and risky to deploy, inflexible once deployed, and not really providing the tools that operational staff required to implement a brand-new suite of operational business processes.

Similarities with Telecoms

Telecom networks share many characteristics with smart grids – remote intelligent field-equipment, interconnected, software enabled, dependent on distribution infrastructure, with end-points of increasing sophistication and flexibility, deployed with residential, business/commercial and amenity consumers, delivering services requiring each node in the network to functional in a highly collaborative and synchronised manner.

Not only is a modern telecom network like the vision for the smart grid of the future, it also went through a similar transition from essentially passive and dumb infrastructure with manual operational processes centered on fault recovery, to the modern self-healing, automated and resilient networks we see today.

30 years ago, a telecoms network was a phone, a copper cable connected to an exchange and some switching equipment, much of which was physical – you needed ear protectors to visit a telecom exchange in the 1970s.

And then transformation! The switch becomes a DSL Access Module, the cable is often now coax or fibre, or sometimes replaced by radio, and the phone is replaced by a DSL Modem, and suddenly, the laptop, smart-phone and smart-home become the end-point that the consumer interacts with.

Utilities and the Smart Grid are perhaps 10 years into this same type of transformation.

So, how did the telecommunications industry respond to this massive change?

The answer is that they implemented sophisticated, highly integrated network monitoring and management systems; addressing fault/performance management, inventory configuration management, service activation and engineering. These were called Operational Support Systems.

Integration is facilitated through alignment to an overarching telecom process model called eTOM, developed by the TMF, the Telecommunications Management Forum, and the associated information model (SID) and application framework (TAM). These systems focused on the key operational processes defined in the eTOM, and summarised by FCAPS – Fault, Configuration, Accounting, Performance and Security.

This means that the IT teams building these complex systems have a common language, and vendors can align their solutions to allow interoperability.

Figure 2 – eTOM Level-1 Process Model

This was great for the new generation of equipment (no longer requiring headphones to visit), but then, just like with the Smart Grid, software started to dominate. At that point, the ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) family of processes became essential. These apply problem and issue management, release management, configuration management, security and SLA management processes, which are essential in maintaining an IT network where software and IT platforms work together. (Sound like the Smart Grid that we are starting to see emerge?)

Figure 3 – ITIL Process Framework

The TMF, recognising this transition, moved to embrace ITIL collaboratively, resulting in a set of standards, which provide a framework for managing, monitoring and securing a sophisticated distributed, technological national resource – the telecommunications network.

The final transition was towards customer experience management; utilising the compute resource in the handset to monitor and control the quality of experience of the consumer. Now, management of telecommunications networks focus on social impact, revenue impact and public image as much as technology.

Throughout this transition, the importance of the eTOM and ITIL process models has changed. Whilst they continue to be a reference for process definition, they are also helping the industry understand “what ‘good’ looks like?”. It is possible to track performance of processes and their impacts on KPIs and SLAs, not just within one company, but across the whole industry, considering similarities in deployed technology and service offerings. Now, through process standardisation, telecoms providers can assess how well their operational processes are performing against an industry base-line and improve in areas where they are “below average” and where there is the largest potential for improvement.

The Need for Change – The Energy OSS

So, what does this mean for Smart Grid? There are very strong parallels in what the telecom industry has achieved over the last 30 years, as it went through the same technological and social transformation that the energy industry is going through.

It all starts with the intelligent devices in the field – select the Smart Grid solution providers that give you visibility of the infrastructure, the consumer’s service, the ability to control the service and the flexibility to adapt through software and firmware configuration. Focus on the parts of the infrastructure where visibility is hardest to achieve, such as the low-voltage grid, because, these are the areas where change is coming fastest, and will require agility to respond through remotely configurable devices.

The smart grid deployment covers this important piece.

Now, the focus must be on the back-end systems which support the operational processes. If we follow the approach of the telecom industry, we need to create a new layer of capability – the Operational Support System, but for the Smart Grid. The key point is that its sole focus is to implement efficient operational processes so that:

  • The business benefits associated with the smart grid deployment can be realised
  • The optimal configuration, and thus operational processes, of the smart grid can be changed depending on the prevailing market and technology pressures
  • The efficiencies of scale for operational expense can be achieved.

The key characteristics of such an OSS are:

  • Support for FCAPS processes – fault, configuration, accounting, performance and security.
  • Instead of simply visualising and exposing information, it provides functions that are directly relevant to the FCAPS operations process
  • It supports operational processes, either through how information is presented and managed through screen-flows, managed information entry and automation, or through the implementation of a workflow engine
  • It can measure performance against KPIs (including SAIDI, SAIFI, ENS and CEMI), identify medium and long-term trends in these KPIs, and indicate how operational processes are having a performance impact on these KPIs
  • It allows convenient business process re-engineering so that continuous improvement can be applied without major IT projects
  • The OSS allows “best practice” operational processes to be deployed quickly, and then extended and customised to suit a specific customer’s operational needs.
  • It integrates with CRM, Billing, Field-force Logistics and ERP platforms.
  • It integrates with a variety of meter vendor head-ends.

Figure 4 – Role of the OSS in Smart Grid Environments

Continuous Improvement; KPIs and Processes

A business is managed by KPIs and many of these are driven by the operations process performance. SAIDI, SAIFI, ENS and CEMS are high profile KPIs and are often used by regulatory bodies to ensure the quality of the service provided to consumers, but there are many more which are influenced by operational process performance.

In fact, recent reports are indicating many 10s of KPIs can be used to effectively manage the performance of a DSO covering broad topics:

  • Metering KPIs – The performance of the AMI and communications infrastructure to maintain constant visibility of the deployed meters and other smart grid components
  • Asset Management KPIs – Covering the cap-ex, op-ex, mean-time-between-failure, lifetime in deployment and largely associated with the asset supply-chain and financials
  • Quality of Supply and Distribution Generation – Describing the overall quality of the energy service as it is distributed from generation, through the network, to the point of consumption
  • Sustainable Communities – The performance of the smart grid with respect to its ability to support micro-grid, distributed generation, storage, demand response and other such developments important to sustainability
  • Flexibility and Network Balance – Relate to the technical performance of the distribution network.

Many of these require the information which is held in the OSS to be comprehensively monitored and managed. The successful OSS will manage processes and record process performance at resource, service, consumer and business levels. Not only does this allow for process monitoring, but it will also allow for continuous process improvements, through increased automation and process re-engineering.

The Result – the New Smart Grid Entrant

For a new smart grid entrant, the OSS is there to provide a “ready-to-go” operational tool that can assist in the transition from non-smart grid to smart grid. It provides the key information, functions and “best practice” processes to help the new smart grid entrant establish a template for operations during a pilot deployment. This template then scales up, develops and evolves, as the pilot develops into a rollout, ensuring the medium and long-term achievement of business objectives.

As the DSO moves into operations and maintenance mode, improvements in function/feature, automation and business process achieve the operational scalability and continuous process improvement.

The Result – the Established Smart Grid Enabled DSO

For the established smart grid enabled DSO, the result is more focused on achieving an OSS that achieves improvements in operational processes, increased flexibility and reduced OSS platform costs. At this stage in the growth of the DSO, improvements of a few % leads to significant $ improvements. The OSS is responsible for “sweating the operations” to achieve these improvements of a few %.

Agility to adapt operational processes to changes in the smart grid resulting from market and technology pressures also becomes more significant as the maturity of the smart grid increases, and the role of the regulator starts to have a more dominant impact on KPI monitoring.

NES Operational Support System

NES supplies the most sophisticated and secure Smart Grid solutions available today, and its solutions form the foundation for any energy provider seeking to transition from being a technology focused enterprise to a business driven by social impact, sustainability, security and customer experience.

The NES Grid Operations solution is a one-system implementation of an OSS for the Smart Grid. It is designed to fill the gap which currently exists in the operationalisation of the smart grid.

Grid Operations helps DSOs operationalize their smart meter deployment. This software solution provides the features for FCAPS: fault management, configuration management, accounting, performance management and security, which are essential for a DSO to run their smart grid optimally and maintain the all-important meter-to-cash process upon which a utility’s smart meter strategy is based.

Grid Operations helps the DSO:

  • Gain enhanced visibility of their AMI and energy services.
  • Control their AMI to deliver energy services and other value-added functions provided by your smart meters.
  • Maintain, adapt and innovate through secure remote configuration and FW downloads.
  • Manage growth in your smart meter deployment and limit scaling your operations teams.

Grid Operations integrates with an OSGP smart grid through the System Software HES. There is no need to go through expensive and time-consuming integration and customisation with “heavy weight” MDMS platforms. And Grid Operations can be extended to interface to other vendor smart grid solutions.

Single System, Simplified Deployment, Simplified Operation, More Agility

Grid Operations provides all the tools needed to operate smart meters from a single application. This simplifies deployment, training, staffing needs, and means that DSOs can change how the tool supports their operational processes faster. This means they can focus on business outcomes for process improvement, rather than worrying about complex integration and system issues.

User definable dashboards, based on a DSO’s own KPI and SLA definitions, provide quick visibility on problems in the grid that a DSO needs to address, including meter faults, communications problems and download and configuration limitations.

Grid Operations is focused on the real operational tasks a DSO needs to perform, and helps them execute these efficiently, ensuring they have the right information available when they make operational decisions. Key scenarios include:

  • Deploy new meters
  • Connect/disconnect/single/bulk: initiate, monitor progress and complete
  • Bulk update meter configurations: initiate, monitor progress and complete
  • Bulk update meter firmware: initiate, monitor progress and complete
  • Identify, localise and resolve communications problems
  • Change a communications schedule to improve performance and KPIs
  • Create customised view of information; dashboard and filters
  • KPI measurement configuration
  • View events and identifying problems on meters
  • View event history for a single meter, indicating problem meter and problem customer.

Enriching the Operational View

Plug in modules to NES Grid Operations, called Grid Navigator and Grid Flow, offer extended functions by enriching the information that is available to operations communities.

NES Grid Navigator analytics solution is part of the Patagonia Energy Applications Platform and provides a DSO with insight by mapping the topology of their low-voltage distribution network for other outcome-based analytics.

The distribution model is created using automated topology mapping algorithms in NES field devices that are continuously updated even as equipment or physical changes are made to the grid.

The topology data can be exported to distribution management and GIS platforms to update asset information and identify discrepancies. With Grid Navigator, the DSO can be sure that its operations team is using up-to-date and accurate information, and that efficiency of back-office and field operations will improve as a result.

Figure – Grid Operations in the Smart Grid Management infrastructure

In addition, the solution displays the DSO’s distribution model and assigns grid health points to improve outage analysis nested within segments.

NES Grid Flow application is a modular analytic tool that leverages the topology created by Low-Voltage Grid Mapper and identifies energy balance issues within the low voltage grid.

The application monitors, analyses, and provides alerts and reports on the selected distribution substations for energy balance per phase over time. With Energy Balancer, the utility can configure which meters are acting as sensors for its low-voltage grid, to allow fine-tune monitoring for problem hot-spots or as issues develop over time.

This dynamic allocation of monitoring points allows a utility to shift its focus to achieve more resolution where and when it is needed.

Figure – Grid Navigator and Grid Flow; the key benefits


The key benefits of a dedicated OSS for the smart grid should be apparent:

  • The OSS will help DSOs starting their smart grid journey to more rapidly develop the right operational processes supported by tooling, to ensure they realise the potential of their smart grid investments.
  • The OSS will help established DSOs well into their smart grid deployment by “sweating the operations”: achieving the few % improvements and cost reductions which will lead to significant $ savings by economies of scale.
  • The OSS will provide the basis for continuous process improvement to ensure that the business is working efficiently and regulatory requirements are being met.

The OSS is an essential tool in the evolution of the smart grid as it provides the means to operationalise the smart grid.

The telecom industry has gone through the same transition that the smart grid is going through, and the overall approaches and concepts used by the telecom industry to operationalise their networks can be applied directly.

An OSS, implementing FCAPS functions, as a dedicated platform integrating to CRM, Billing, ERP and Field-logistics is a template which is of direct relevance to the smart grid industry, and offers the foundation for operational flexibility and evolution and continuous processes improvement, beyond the point of deployment of the smart grid infrastructure.

Even more fundamental than the OSS are field devices, such as meters, and also including the full set of smart grid devices, that allow the FCAPS capabilities exposed by the OSS to generate value for the business through communications of management information and control.

Some smart grid enabling companies, such as NES, are implementing OSS platforms; NES Grid Operations is a prime example of such a tool.


Networked Energy Services (NES) Corporation is a global smart energy leader in the worldwide transformation of the electricity grid into an energy control network, enabling utilities to provide their customers with a more efficient and reliable service, to protect their systems from current and emerging cybersecurity threats, and to offer innovative new services that enable active, intelligent use of energy.

NES was formed as a result of the spinoff of Echelon Corporation’s Grid Modernization Division in October 2014. NES is headquartered in the US with R&D centers located in Silicon Valley, North Dakota and Poland, and sales offices throughout the world.

NES’ smart grid technology is used in nearly 40 million smart meters and other smart end devices around the world. NES is a member of the OSGP Alliance, a global association of utilities and smart grid companies, which promotes the Open Smart Grid Protocol and cooperates to provide utilities greater value by enabling true, independently-certified, multivendor interoperability based upon open international specifications and standards. NES smart meters and grid devices are certified as open and interoperable by the OSGP Alliance.


Jon Wells has 25 years of experience in the telecommunications industry, moving into the similar industry of smart grid a few years ago. Through this time, Jon has focused on helping network operators manage their distributed technology infrastructure; providing management solutions and also helping them develop business cases. He is able to bring the experience of the telecommunications industry into the arena of smart grids, quickly drawing upon the parallels to assess opportunities for cost reduction, efficiency improvement and customer experience improvement and use this to develop relevant and practical business cases for DSOs. Jon has held director roles in technical consulting, business consulting, and business development and is currently Director of Product Marketing for Networked Energy Services.

Email: Jon.Wells@networkedenergy.com

Dariusz Kurowski is the Vice President and head of Professional Services in Europe at NES. Darek manages the NES Professional Services Team in Europe and is responsible for implementation of Smart Metering and Smart Grid NES Solutions. With almost 20 years of experience in the Power Engineering Electricity market in the areas of smart grid and OT (Operational Technologies) products and services, Darek has helped customer achieve their ambitious goals by implementing IT/OT and Smart Grid solutions for many of the leading DSO’s in the region. Since 2000, he has been actively involved in the Polish energy sector transformation in various roles. He led projects for prominent IT/OT integrators, was a Director in the largest Polish Energy Consortium, and served as an Advisor working for E&Y. Darek’s responsibilities included providing solution architecture, project management and leadership for innovation-oriented teams. In addition, he was a recognized expert of the largest energy groups in Poland and a few neighboring countries. Darek began his career in this industry with ComputerLand SA – the well-known Polish Integrator, before gaining more

extensive experience at HP, PGE (Polish Energy Group) and E&Y. He graduated from the Faculty of IT Engineering at “Marketing and Business School “in Łódź and from Business Management faculty at University of City Łódź. Darek was also a lecturer of post graduate MBA studies in the field of Power Engineering at the Ryszard Łazarski University in Warsaw, which is dedicated for high and mid-level managers of DSOs.

Email: Dariusz.Kurowski@networkedenergy.com