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EnerNex hopes to develop next-gen grid management system

Electric utilities know that the growth of distributed energy resources, more informed and active customers, and new markets and regulations will force them to take shapes that are very different than the ones they have today.

A Knoxville, Tenn.-based electric-power research, engineering and consulting firm has been working with Southern California Edison to create a foundation that can support whatever transformation electric utilities need to undergo.

As part of SCE’s grid modernization strategy, EnerNex has been helping the utility develop the architecture for a next-generation grid management system, or GMS.

A subsidiary of Rosemead, Calif.-based Edison International, SCE is developing the GMS for its own use. But it’s also making the details of its work available to other electric utilities, as well as electric-utility regulators and vendors. That will enable it to get feedback about the GMS from its peers, as well as give the vendors an idea of the types of products and services that electric utilities are likely to need in the coming years.

SCE unveiled its GMS at the DistribuTECH conference in Orlando, Fla., last month during a panel discussion hosted by Erich Gunther, EnerNex’s chairman, chief technology officer and co-founder.

In an overview of the GMS that it released at the discussion, SCE said it is “pursuing a next-generation grid management system (GMS) as the overarching solution to addressing [the] changes” that electric utilities will need to make to their infrastructures to meet the challenges ahead. Those changes include enhanced situational awareness, automation, reliability, and safety, as well as the ability to seamlessly integrate DERs.

SCE said that, in order to be the solution it envisions, as well as be flexible enough to respond to new needs, the GMS must be built around a comprehensive architecture that supports the GMS’ initial configuration and enables that configuration to evolve.

To develop that architecture, SCE assembled a 13-person Enterprise Architecture team that includes Gunther and Doug Houseman, EnerNex’s vice president of innovation and technology. At DistribuTECH, the utility released a document detailing the architecture, and discussed the architecture at the event that Gunther hosted. It also released an overview of the architecture and a concept of operations for its distribution grid modernization. All the documents, and the slides from the presentation that Gunther hosted, can be downloaded from the utility’s website.

Gunther subsequently discussed the architecture himself in a one-hour webinar that EnerNex has since posted on the front page of its website.

In the webinar, Gunther said he was working with several other utilities on similar architectures. They’re needed, he said, because of the demands being put on current grid management systems by what utilities are asking them to do now and what they will ask them to do in the future.

SCE, for example, wants its GMS to be able to support:

• Customer-controllable DERs that can respond to demand response signals;

• the growing complexity of the California energy market, including prices communicated directly to end-consumer DER equipment;

• running the grid closer to its capacity margin;

• dynamic two-way power flow;

• increased reliability and power quality;

• customer microgrids that can be islanded, i.e., that can leave or join the grid based on customer decisions;

• forecasting total load by location, based on the available power from distributed generation; the amount of energy available in storage; and the available demand response based on market conditions, weather, equipment status, customer decisions, and other factors;

• providing operators with transmission-like contingency options that reduce the impact of shifting grid conditions on customers;

• managing the grid based on multi-objective optimization, including customer values, grid capacity, economics, equipment life cycle, reliability, and lowest impact to the environment.

Current grid management systems can do some of those things, but extending their capabilities is difficult because of the way they’ve been built. They are, Gunther said, “systems of systems” that include energy management systems, outage management systems, distribution management systems, and many others.

Utilities have been deploying those individual systems as they need them, Gunther said, with the result that there is no single platform for managing the systems in conjunction with each other.

“Fundamentally, what we’re really trying to do is create the unified platform,” he said. “Presently, we’ve got a multitude of individual platforms that we’re dealing with.”

Among other things, Gunther said, that unified platform should have an integrated set of operational functions; well-defined interfaces to promote interoperability among the systems it runs; and distributed intelligence to support automated decision-making. It also should be able to be optimized for multiple goals at one time and provide a single source of truth for utilities’ core interactions and systems of record.

Based on what SCE wants its GMS to accomplish, and the capabilities it wants the GMS’ platform to have, the system architecture team made the GMS a system of eight systems. Each system takes care of a general function for the GMS.

For example, according to SCE, the reliability system facilitates the consistent, reliable and safe flow of electricity across the distribution network by providing fault detection, fault isolation and restoration capabilities. The optimization system coordinates the activities of the distribution network and the DERs linked to it in order to facilitate the optimal generation, consumption and efficient exchange of electricity across the distribution network.

The system architecture team also defined the five core services that the grid management system is to provide. They include the “monitor” service, which SCE said enables the GMS to obtain dynamic information about grid activities, and the “control” service, which processes data so the GMS can make operational decisions.

The architecture is meant to provide a structure that utilities can use for their GMS, regardless of what their business model looks like now or will look like in the future. 

“We believe with those [systems and services], we are able to support almost any business model that will arise,” Gunther said.

How utilities will use the architecture to move from their current grid management systems to ideal ones will be up to them. They will, however, be able to get plenty of support in their efforts.

For instance, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers has a smart grid group with expertise in grid architecture that is holding a June webinar on the discipline of grid architecture, examples of it and developments in it. The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has done work on grid architecture and has an entire section on it on its website.

“SCE is not alone in trying to figure this out,” Gunther said.

The utility’s release of its GMS and the architecture for it constitutes a milestone, but it’s an early one in the path that SCE and other electric utilities will be traveling for a while.

“SCE is still at the beginning of the whole process,” Gunther said.

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