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EPRI, Part Two: Sandy exposes smart grid limits, and maturity

In yesterday's column, "EPRI: Sandy Exposes Smart Grid Limits, and Maturity," Arshad Mansoor, a senior executive with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), described how physical damage to the grid on the scale wrought by Hurricane Sandy cannot be prevented by the smart grid's sensor-and-control systems. That physical damage will always delay restoration, according to Mansoor. 

But to gain the full advantage of smart grid-related systems such as advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), geographic information systems (GIS), outage management systems (OMS), data analytics and workforce management systems, they must all be well integrated—a task that will require years and more large investments. That process, as well as a role for regulators and end-use customers, is the topics of today's column.

Properly integrating advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) with a geographic information system (GIS) is the first step. 

"Begin with AMI integration with GIS," Mansoor said. "If I have a smart metering system deployed across, say, five million customers, and that AMI system is integrated with my GIS system, then I'm able to perform `customer facing' or `tagging' that I haven't been able to do manually."

("Tagging" is the process of connecting a metered account with a physical address.) 

"Getting 100 percent of customers correctly ID'd without integrating AMI with GIS is almost impossible," Mansoor cautioned. "For most utilities they maybe have 5 percent incorrectly tagged. Ten percent in some cases."

With customers correctly tagged, integration of an outage management system (OMS), the development and application of appropriate data analytics and, finally, integration of a work management system will yield the full value of a smarter grid in more rapid restoration in outage events, Mansoor said. 

If all your customers are correctly tagged, then aggregating the outages and looking upstream to identify the point of failure for the most customers is the next step. That's often referred to as "circuit chasing," the EPRI executive said. (Circuit chasing used to be accomplished through customer phone calls alerting the utility to outages, Mansoor pointed out.)  

With the AMI > GIS > OMS > data analytics > workforce management system integration accomplished, it's possible to speed restoration by accurately sending field crews to those points of failure on the grid affecting the most customers. 

"It's not just system integration you need but also the business analytics running on top of all this," Mansoor said. "The analytics do the circuit chasing for you."

"To us, the value of smart grid becomes fully realized when this level of integration, with the right analytics, is baked into a system," he said, adding: "There's no end to analytics."

Still, even with the full integration of AMI > GIS > OMS > data analytics > work management systems, physical restoration of infrastructure—poles and wires, e.g.—must take place first: downed trees must be cleared before new poles and wires can be erected. That takes time. 

Mansoor does not have a good figure for whether many, or any, North American utilities have achieved this level of smart grid development.  

"We are in the early stages," he said. "We've installed devices and systems. But we are only in the early stages of maturity."

Regulators will need to understand these issues as well.

"Will regulators allow the right levels of expenditure for systems integration and analytics?" Mansoor asked, rhetorically. "These steps cost much more than meters do. That's a difficult sale. But we've got to do it."

The restoration toolkit needs to be expanded as well, he added, perhaps to include inexpensive, unmanned aerial vehicles (i.e., cheap drones) to provide cost-effective imagery of a damaged grid, as they are in France. 

Finally, there's the end-use customer. Stakeholders need to consider the end customer as another set of eyes and ears for pinpointing grid failures as well as giving them (that's all of us) their own set of coping tools. Ordinary cars equipped with an inverter can provide 24 volt electricity to power lights and refrigeration, he pointed out. The solution doesn't need to be expensive, polluting diesel generators, he said. 

"What can we do to help consumers cope with the outage? 

Mansoor suggested end-user tools such as solar chargers for cell phones for communication and, out on the street, for instance, LEDs for key traffic lights, powered by solar photovoltaics and energy storage, would help with civil order under disaster conditions.  

So, given the infancy of systems integration that will bring fuller value to the grid modernization steps taken so far, Hurricane Sandy wasn't really a test of the smart grid, in Mansoor's view.  

"We've only just installed our sensors," Mansoor concluded. "Achieving the full benefit of any sensor network—we consider AMI to be a sensor network—will require a tremendous investment in integration and analytics. How you handle data is a huge undertaking. I'd say we're only at the early stages. In the past century we had to run the distribution system blind, and now we are blinded by data."

Yet Hurricane Sandy should serve as an impetus to hone our approach to hardening, resiliency and the analytics that will sit on top of sensor and control systems, in Mansoor's view. 

"Sandy heightens the opportunity for innovation," he said. "For the first time in ten years, I see opportunities. We are now doing data analytics. And the changes on the customer side? How many of us had iPhones and tablets five years ago? Today, 30 percent of utility customers don't have landlines. Sandy exposed the tremendous opportunity we have to partner with consumers to speed up the restoration process. We'll have to educate our customers."


Phil Carson's picture

Thank Phil for the Post!

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