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Analyzing grid analytics

AS THE UTILITY ANALYTICS INSTITUTE, A DIVISION OF ENERGY Central, wraps up its Annual Grid Analytics Report-the action-packed sequel to our first report, Market Outlook and Forecast-we'd like to discuss some of the grid analytics findings from the report.

First, it's important to understand what we mean when we say grid analytics. Grid analytics are analytics that enable utilities to ensure better planning, design, construction, operation and maintenance of utility transmission and distribution networks.

We segment grid analytics into two key areas:

  • ASSET OPTIMIZATION Analytics that assist with optimizing the performance and reliability of grid assets; the focus here is on management of grid assets. This area includes transformer and substation management, as well as overall transmission and distribution asset management.
  • GRID OPTIMIZATION Analytics that assist with optimizing the operation of the grid to minimize power losses and maximize efficiency and quality; the focus here is on management of grid functions. This area includes outage management, system modeling, power quality optimization, advanced distribution management and analytics for real-time applications.


Grid optimiation is the bigger focus
Both of these grid analytics segments are critical for the success of more advanced, intelligent grids. However, when we analyzed the primary focus of utilities' grid analytics initiatives, we learned that grid optimization rules the roost today. According to our research, a whopping 72 percent of utilities made grid optimization the main focus of their grid analytics initiative compared with about 18 percent of utilities that focused on asset optimization. Of the grid optimization efforts, top areas included advanced distribution management, outage management and system modeling.

Does this mean that utilities just aren't tackling asset optimization? No. Grid analytics initiatives for utility companies typically don't just cover one area-other areas are certainly a part of the formula. About 30 to 40 percent of utilities are pursuing asset optimization in addition to their primary focus of grid optimization. Grid optimization is at the forefront of utilities' minds

as they move forward with the smart grid, but how do utilities find a balance between the excitement of grid optimization and smart grid, and the necessity of asset optimization?

Utilities in action
Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) offers a great example of a utility that effectively blends smart grid, grid optimization and asset optimization. SMUD is including grid analytics as part of a significant investment in digitizing and automating their grid. SMUD may not be focused directly on asset management with their smart grid efforts, but the data and analytics they're using for grid optimization and automation ultimately helps with asset management.

SMUD is working on several initiatives as part of their smart grid program. Some of those initiatives include:

  • Bolting an advanced operating system onto their existing energy management system.
  • Retrofitting another 40 of the company's distribution substation transformers with SCADA-they already have 120 with SCADA-meaning roughly 70 percent of their distribution substation transformers will have SCADA capabilities.
  • Automating 109 feeders, which equals about 19 percent of their service territory.
  • Doing Volt/VAR optimization and conservation voltage reduction.

SMUD is laying the foundation for better analytics capabilities through their automation and smart grid investments, but how are they actually using analytics? Lora Anguay, senior project manager, distribution automation, provided some great examples around grid optimization. She noted, "If we have a fault, the data coming back is telling us whether we can tie circuits together, and whether a circuit can take the additional load because we've had a fault on another circuit. For the circuit that doesn't have the fault, we don't want to create a bigger outage because it couldn't pick up additional load. So we're looking at that before we switch the reclosers." Those decisions are happening in less than a minute, so SMUD's goal is to have the information coming back every three to five seconds on the reclosers.

Another grid optimization area SMUD is focusing on is conservation voltage reduction by reducing substation voltages. "We're using the smart meter data and the line devices that we're installing to bring back the voltages on the lines," Anguay explained. "The meter has the capability of giving us the instantaneous voltage so when we're backing off the voltage of the substation, we can see whether or not we're within the required voltage constraints on the customer end. By doing that, it allows us to be more efficient."

SMUD has a voltage range that they can deliver power within and before smart meters, there was really no way to validate that at the customer level. "We could do the math and figure it out, but there was no real validation unless we put some sensing devices at the end of the lines," said Anguay.

Even with the focus on automation, SMUD is finding ways to support its asset optimization as well. "Within distribution operations, it does spill over to our asset management operations," explained Anguay. "For example, with collecting the smart meter voltage data, we're able to identify areas that have voltage issues on the system. So we're able to take that voltage information and pass it along and say `here's where we're having some voltage issues and here's where we need to concentrate our efforts.'"

SMUD is just one example of how grid analytics is rapidly changing how utilities run their distribution businesses. With the grid analytics market projected to grow to $2 billion in North America by 2016, we expect to see more success stories like this in the coming months and years. If you're interested in learning more, please check out



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