The answers to three key questions on grid reliability and new disruptive challenges

During IEEE conference in Chicago this week, ABB experts share their views on reliability standards, cost-effective technologies and the role of microgrids

Unlike ever before, the power industry is transforming and utilities are facing new disruptive challenges. One of the disruptive challenges revolves around reliability. What will be the new standard of reliability in the future? How does reliability play a factor in issues such as storm response and recovery, critical power and the effective cost management? Discover insights to those issues from two of ABB’s Smart Squad members, who will be on hand at IEEE in Chicago this week: Gary Rackliffe, ABB’s VP of Smart Grids for North America, and Brad Luyster, ABB’s VP of Microgrids for North America.

Are mandatory reliability standards relevant when it comes to storm response and recovery?

Brad: I am focusing on two words in this question: relevant and standards. Standards are good, but can they always be relevant to the mass market? The issue we have with reliability standards is perspective, what’s reliable to a residential customer is not relevant to a critical power customer. So when we push reliability standards on the utility industry, they will try to layer the standard across their entire service territory and they will treat each customer the same. A 98% reliability metric may be good to a residential neighborhood but not to a hospital who is looking for and measuring their uptime to that 100% mark. As a whole, yes, standards are good, but when measured to the market, they are irrelevant to certain customers.

Gary: Yes, but I think that this question has four different issues that are relevant. The first issue is how to measure reliability if utilities are going to be accountable for a mandatory reliability standard. The industry standard for grid reliability from IEEE is a guide that defines the metrics that are used to determine reliability, and these metrics are widely used, but the metrics stop short of mandatory reliability standards. The second issue is the definition of a storm and establishing a storm response standard, since utilities experience different types of events, and major storms are generally not included in utility outage statistics. The third issue is addressing the challenge to establish a standard that accounts for different types of customers, different types of grid topologies (network versus radial), rural versus metro systems, vegetation differences, and the type and frequency of storms that the grid will experience. The final issue is that reliability impacts from storms and the recovery process is largely centered on the distribution grid, which means state public utility commissions would be the driver behind a reliability standard. Having a uniform approach to mandatory reliability standards across the states would prove challenging.

What are the top most cost-effective technologies and/or operating practices to improve reliability at the distribution level?

Brad: Grid stabilization, distributed energy resources, power electronics and seamless microgrid islanding are several technologies that can significantly improve reliability.

Gary: The most fundamental operating practice is to manage vegetation. Fault current indicators, advanced metering infrastructure providing outage notification, relays, and other intelligent devices can feed the outage management module of distribution management systems (DMS) to help assess number and severity of outages. Distribution automation communications, smart controllers, and controllable devices, such as reclosers, can be managed by distributed control software or DMS applications to automate the grid and to enable self-healing. Automation and self-healing significantly improve reliability. Distributed energy resources, such as distributed generation, energy storage and microgrids also improve reliability at the distribution level.

What role will microgrids play in maintaining/improving reliability and how can utilities participate in this market?

Brad: Over the last few decades, our grid has gone from a decentralized power generation system to a more centralized power generation solution. Policy, economics and technology have created a pretty fantastic power grid. However, in recent years we are seeing the weakness of our solution: degradation of reliability during times of need (snow storms, hurricanes, natural events). We have found the reliance on technology and power is great and when a whole region is out of power for days, the loss of electric power means societal breakdown. Microgrids, added to strategic areas of the grid, create redundancy in electrical generation. If the community properly plans for the location of these microgrids, power reliability goes through the roof. But first, let’s go back to the what a microgrid is. ABB defines a microgrid as multiple forms of generation, serving multiple feeders on the grid, with the ability to seamlessly island from the grid. Our solution is at the distribution level and is normally around 500 kW to 60 MW in size. The installations we have in place globally have been proven to add reliability and efficiency on the grid. Efficiency comes from the best practice that renewable power penetration is greatest at the distribution level and as a close proximity to the consumers.

Gary: Microgrids have increased importance for the grid based on their ability to operate connected to the grid and to operate in an island mode. Grid-connected operations facilitate integration of distributed energy resources, such as solar PV renewable generation, battery energy storage and dispatchable distributed generation during normal operations. During an outage, the microgrid can operate in island mode to serve critical loads and customers using these same resources, improving grid resiliency. Utilities can participate in this market by using microgrids to connect variable renewable generation, such as solar PV to the grid with on-site battery energy storage to better manage the variable generation and still meet renewable portfolio standards. Utilities can also improve grid reliability for critical portions of the grid or critical customers during outages through microgrid technology.

Join ABB at the IEEE PES Transmission & Distribution conference in Chicago in booth #6725, where we will have Smart Squad experts “on tap” at our Smart Bar throughout the duration of the event. On Wednesday, April 16, 2014, look for Brad at 1:15 pm to talk more about microgrids and Gary at 4:15 pm to discuss any of your smart grid related challenges.  Have a question for one of our experts? Submit it now and we will provide the answer at the event.





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Gregory Hollings

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