Looking forward to 2013

In 2013, I predict that the distribution grid will receive much of the focus as utilities work to improve reliability and efficiency

2013 has jumped off to a quick start for smart grid and the DistribuTECH conference, at the end of the January, had everyone’s focus. This event showcased smart grid and grid modernization technologies in the exhibits and during the three-day technical sessions. ABB had three booths at the event: the main ABB booth, the Tropos booth, and Thomas & Betts booths. ABB’s Automation & Power World and Ventyx World are to follow in the spring.

Distribution Grid Management will be the leading investment area
My prediction for 2013 is that this year will be the year for investments in the grid part of smart grids. In particular, the distribution grid will receive much of the focus as utilities work to improve reliability and efficiency. I think the concept of distribution grid management is gaining momentum as it converges distribution management systems, distribution SCADA, outage management systems, distribution substation automation, and distribution feeder automation.

Key advanced applications are fault detection, isolation, and restoration (FDIR, also called FLISR for fault location, isolation, and service restoration) that provide self-healing capabilities to the grid to improve reliability and volt/VAr optimization. Volt/VAr optimization combines reducing reactive power losses on the distribution system with conservation voltage reduction to improve efficiency and to reduce system peak demands. These applications can be managed centrally, with distributed control in substations, or implemented for specific feeders with local control. Both applications incorporate software, communications, field equipment and apparatus, and sensors.

OT/IT Convergence
This convergence of distribution technologies also includes the integration of operations technology (OT) and information technology (IT). Distribution grid management leverages more available data and integrates enterprise-level IT systems with the operational systems. Distribution management systems (DMS) are now integrated into the geographic information system, the customer information system, and the meter data management system. Mobile workforce management integration to the DMS platform substantially improves outage management and storm response. Distributed energy resources such demand response, distributed generation, energy storage, electric vehicle infrastructure, and microgrids impact grid operations must be coordinated. All of these technologies for distribution grid management have driven the need for grid analytics and improved situational awareness, which business intelligence software can offer.

More Grid Analytics – Asset Health
This OT/IT convergence also influences the grid analytics and business intelligence software for T&D asset health management, which is another smart grid investment focus area in 2013. Aging infrastructure, constrained technical resources, pressure on O&M expenses, compliance requirements, the costs of unplanned outages, and the need for grid reliability are driving investments in asset health management. For these applications, sensor data, historian data from operations, report data (tests, inspections, and maintenance), nameplate information, and other data sources are leveraged to manage asset health. Performance models based on equipment expertise and service experience drive asset health by creating actionable information for operations, condition-based maintenance, and life-cycle decision support. Completing the OT/IT convergence, these actions are then executed by enterprise asset management systems supported by mobile workforce management.

Transmission Investments
I expect to see renewable energy integration drive transmission investment in HVDC, FACTS, energy storage, and wide area monitoring projects in 2013. These technologies improve grid efficiency and capacity and can provide grid support to mitigate the effects of variable renewable generation.

Distributed Energy Resources
Investments will continue in demand response, distributed generation, and distributed energy storage in 2013. We will continue to see direct load control demand response, but the industry will also be moving out pilot implementations for dynamic demand response and the other distributed energy resources. I do think that there will be some competition for dollars between demand response on the consumer side of the meter and grid enabled demand response through volt/VAr optimization. Electric vehicles are selling slower than expected so in the near term, EV infrastructure will be charging stations and demand response applications. Microgrids are growing for both off-grid and grid-connected applications. Microgrid control technology enables thermal, hydro, wind, and solar generation to be managed with battery and flywheel energy storage and demand response control of loads. Improved reliability, integration of renewables, and remote off-grid solutions are microgrid investment drivers.

Washington DC
Smart grids and grid modernization is getting attention again in Washington DC. The Smart Grid investment grants under the DOE are being executed but the focus of these grants was job creation and advanced metering infrastructure (AMI and smart meters). The storm response in the Northeast following superstorm Sandy and other recent storms have raised awareness about how smart grids can improve the utility recovery process and also provide improved situational awareness.

Washington is also asking about legislative models to enable grid modernization to improve reliability, improve efficiency, and to enable renewable generation. The other issue in Washington is on cyber security. GridWise Alliance, NEMA, and other industry organizations are actively engaging on the cyber security policy discussions. The big challenge is business case support for grid investments at the distribution level, which fall under individual state public utility commission regulatory oversight. Regulatory models, de-regulated markets, de-coupled rates, societal benefits, and operating efficiencies are some the challenges that we need to navigate.

All in all, 2013 is shaping up to be an exciting year for Smart Grids.

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About the author

Gary Rackliffe

Hello, I lead Smart Grid Development for ABB North America. I have more than 25 years of industry experience in both transmission and distribution (T&D) and have worked with ABB for 19 years across a variety of positions. I hold a bachelor’s and master’s degree in electric power engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and an MBA degree from Carnegie Mellon University.
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