The Infosys Utilities Blog seeks to discuss and answer the industry’s burning Smart Grid questions through the commentary of the industry’s leading Smart Grid and Sustainability experts. This blogging community offers a rich source of fresh new ideas on the planning, design and implementation of solutions for the utility industry of tomorrow.

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October 25, 2010

Smart Grids : Short to Mid-Term Challenges

A lot has been written/discussed about Smart Grid in different forums. What is interesting is that the definition and thus benefits and challenges of the Smart Grid has been extremely contextual & subjective. Customer Enablement, Customer Education, Self Healing Grids..... the list can go on if we want to list the said objectives of the Smart Grids, and each one of these has its own unique challenges.
All of these objectives can be categorized under following titles:
1. Grid Reliability
2. Quality of Service
3. Operational Efficiency
4. Energy Efficiency
5. Reduced dependency on the fossil fuel
In order to fully realize these objective the following systems are being or planned to be deployed:
1. AMI
2. DER
3. Renewable
4. Distribution Automation
With each of these systems will come with their own challenges.
AMI has already started to see issues like Network Latency, Data Quality, and Communication Blackouts etc. Some of these issues may even de-rail the Smart Grid implementation plan if the solution are not found in time.
Similarly DER and Renewable Integration in particular with PV, PHEV and Battery Storage integration will pose following major challenges:
1. Power Quality Issues (particularly Voltage and Frequency)
2. Dynamic Load Models
3. Load Estimation and Forecast (with ever changing load patterns)
4. Intermittency of the Supply
5. New & Intelligent devices and Systems
6. New Tariffs and Rate Structures
These challenges need immediate attention and needs to be considered (are being considered) before embarking on to the design of the systems and implementation plans. These issues are directly related to the main objectives of the Smart Grid which are Increased Reliability and Increased Operational Efficiency.
Similarly new & intelligent devices and systems are being deployed in the name of smart grid for which neither training nor experience is present. Hence creating the righ workforce to cater to the need of Smarter Grids is something that needs immediate attention.
While planning for next steps in smart grid implementation and designing systems, these challenges need to be very carefully analyzed so that we don't reach the point of no return in the mid-term future

October 12, 2010

What does Smart Grid mean to an end consumer


We have been reading about the term "Smart Grid" for several years now. However there is no single definition of Smart Grid. There is no single technology or solution which can be defined as Smart Grid. Smart Grid is probably a set of several technologies working in harmony. We have read few Power distribution utilities announcing plans to spend several millions of money on Smart Grid initiatives like installing smart meters at our homes, automated meter reading, meter data management, Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition and several other technologies. But what does "Smart Grid" mean to you and me as a consumer, what is it supposed to do and how will it impact me?

Building the Smart Grid means adding information technology and communications technology to the automation and control mechanism that already exists in the electricity grid. Convergence of information technology, communications technology and electricity grid lead to the digital technology. With the digital technology, the grid promises to operate more efficiently and reliably. It will also become capable to accommodate more non-conventional energy sources like solar and wind power, which are relatively unreliable sources of energy that can become more reliable with better control mechanisms in place.

Smart Grid could mean the following to me as a consumer.

1. Higher reliability
2. Receiving a call proactively from the utility informing about a planned maintenance
3. Availability of exact restoration time in the event of breakdown
4. Availability of detailed information on energy consumption and bills thereby helping in monitoring and reducing power consumption
5. Greater scope for saving on electricity bills
6. Active participation in energy efficiency and energy conservation initiatives
7. Availability of smart appliances

There are several benefits that an end consumer will avail from the implementation of the Smart Grid. Only the coming times will prove and establish the benefits.

October 11, 2010

Uncovering Additional Benefits of AMI Systems Not Included in Business Cases

When I was selling AMI systems, many customers returned enthusiastic reviews such as  "selecting AMI was the best decision I have made in the last 15 years". Yet others expressed lukewarm opinions. So in an effort to obtain an objective critique I embarked on my own inquiry. The preliminary research found that for many AMI implementations, the extents of the benefits were not fully realized until well after initial deployment. Majority of the business cases were extremely conservative and included only short term benefits such as meter reading cost savings, eliminating estimated billing, Disconnecting Meters for non-payment, etc. The business cases did not consider longer term and other enterprise wide benefits. The AMI systems require integration with the Enterprise Systems to achieve the full spectrum of advantages conferred by this new technology. It is thus imperative for AMI implementations to integrate with enterprise systems to extract benefits from the comprehensive and complete data sets. Upon such integrated deployment, some of AMR customers were reporting additional benefits listed below:

Benefits that boost AMI Business Case:

Accurate & Complete Power Quality Data for the Service Areas
o SAIDI, CAIDI, MAIFI statistics
o Voltage Regulation

Evidence of Efficiency, Reliability of Service, Losses, and Loading
o Over-loading to build new Substations, Feeder and/or Upgrade the Line

Distribution Congestion

Accurate Data to Support Different Rate Classes of Customers
o   Customers causing Coincident Peaks

Accurate Data for Non-Paying & Late-Paying Customers

New Options Offer to Customers
o  Prepayment
o  Instant Customer Notification About
      -Power Outages
      -Power Restoration

Exceeding budget Threshold
o  Green Energy Usage
o  Direct Load Control

Data in Support of and Against DR Programs
o In-Home Display
o CPP (Critical Peak Pricing)
o TOU (Time of Use)
o PCT (Programmable Communication Thermostat)
o Energy Efficiency

PUC Complaints
o Billing
o Outage
o Power Quality
o Safety

o To Support "Feed in Tariff" for Solar

Reduction of Carbon Emissions Due to Reduced Roll-Out of Vehicles to:
o Read Meters
o Connect/Disconnect
o Off Cycle Reads
o Restoration of Outages

I came across many of these unanticipated benefits in conversation with AMI customers, both those with glowing and lackluster reviews of AMI. While this list is not exhaustive, it demonstrates the need for utilities to realize many of the above-mentioned AMR benefits with additional IT Integration. I plan to delve more deeply into other benefits and hopefully unveil some additional discoveries in future blogs as I continue to inspect AMI's role in Smart Grid technology.

October 3, 2010

Smart Grid: Is it a technology or a social issue?

Smart Grid technologies are evolving and Utilities, across the world, are experimenting with many technologies. Specifically Advanced Metering infrastructure (AMI) has taken a front seat and large scale AMI projects are happening. But still Utilities are trying to figure out what this plethora of technologies mean to them and what should they be doing? No doubt this is a difficult question and there is no single answer for this. But the way I like to define Smart Grid is:

"Smart Grid is the application of technology to solve socio-economic problems"

It's very clear that that technology revolution will play a key role in transformation of the electricity industry but to get maximum value out of the technology investment it's important to think through the social, economic and policy aspects of the things.

Socio-economic situation will vary from place to place; it can be different for an area, region, state, country and customers (Gen X, Y, Z). I'll go a step further and argue that each customer is unique and has a different requirement so we have to be cognizant of this fact and try to treat every customer uniquely. There is no "one size fits all" solution for such problems. So, it's not technology alone but the application of technology to solve the socio-economic problems that will make the difference in the long run.

From Utility perspective, another important aspect is the cost of bringing such huge socio-economic change. While preparing business case for such investments, the benefits should not be limited to the value created for the company but it should also consider the larger "societal" benefits. Lot more disruptive thinking is required to think through the need for such investments and get benefits out of it. Another important aspect is to define clear performance measures/metrics to monitor the results of such a program and use it throughout the program lifecycle. A robust measurement and monitoring framework should be established within the organization and outside to monitor the progress.

To facilitate decision making for such investments, Pilot projects play an important role in proving the technology before wide scale deployment but it's often difficult to access the social acceptance and impact of the technology. The use of "Serious Gaming" can be explored to get an idea of challenges and opportunities that any such large scale technology transformation program can present.