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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September 29, 2011

Online DGA Technology-Increasing Grid Reliability

In my earlier blog "Grid Should Not Die", I had discussed about two new technologies (Advanced Distribution Management System and WAMPAC- wide area monitoring, protection and control) that are expected to play key role in creating a "self-healing" grid.
In this blog, I will discuss on 'Online DGA technology' that will also play a key role in increasing reliability of Grids. Though there are other technologies available for improving the reliability, in this blog I will focus on 'Online DGA technology' its benefits.
For years DGA (Dissolved Gas Analysis) technology has been extensively used by utility engineers to determine the condition of Power Transformers in Grids. The oil samples collected from transformers were sent to laboratory for details analysis of all the critical gases, dissolved in transformer oil. Based on the outcome of DGA and comparison with historical values, the condition of the transformer was assessed by experts for further course of actions.
This approach has many practical issues-
1. The DGA of transformer oil is generally scheduled as part of the 'periodic maintenance'. This approach does not prevent outages that could occur in between the scheduled inspections and also result in unnecessary inspection costs if the transformer was in good operating condition
2. Certain kind of faults, like partial discharge, arcing etc. can develop suddenly inside transformer oil, when the transformer is in service, ultimately leading to transformer failure. Such failures cannot be prevented with the traditional "periodic maintenance" processes.
3. Periodic inspections are also not cost effective as these are typically scheduled periodically and not based on the condition of the equipment.
Today, "Online gas analyzers" are available, which provides real time values and ratios of key gases required to be monitored to get a picture of transformer health, when the transformer is in service. These values can be integrated in a centralized monitoring and diagnostics system for 'online condition monitoring' of transformer. This real time monitoring of transformer health, can reduce 'transformer failure rate' significantly and thereby reducing the outages due to same. This Online DGA not only benefits the customers by reducing outages due to transformer failure, but also helps utilities save money by avoiding unnecessary inspections. This also increases the life of a transformer by early detection of issues prior to failure. This online DGA is a part of a modern "Online Condition Based Monitoring" technology, which is becoming popular, slowly but surely.
While these monitoring & diagnostics systems come at a cost, they may still provide a good ROI particularly for large power transformers. At the end of the day, we need to remember that, 'transformer' is the costliest equipment in a T&D utility and the lead time to repair a transformer is significantly high compared to other equipments used in utility.

September 28, 2011

Redefining "Smart Grid"

Smart grid is a term that has been incessantly bandied around for more than 5 years. The origins of this abundantly used term date to at least 2005, when the article "Toward A Smart Grid", authored by S. Massoud Amin and Bruce F. Wollenberg appeared in the September/October issue of IEEE P&E Magazine. Since then, every consultant, operations technologist and information technologist has been slinging around this word with relentless fervor, ad nauseam.

337_1.jpgAs we pass the fifth anniversary, an anniversary traditionally marked with gifts of silver or wood, we will instead explore redefining this term for a new era of smart grid. There are five main points of the re-defined smart grid, unheralded in the first iteration.

Shift from smart meter to smart grid, the enablement of the microgrid

  • The original envisioning of smart grid included a costly overhaul of infrastructure, digital enablement of existing assets and incorporation of new technology. After the costly investment into AMI, the push for infrastructure has slowed due to cost recovery. The focus on end-to-end technology enablement has lead to limited microgrids. The vision of smart grid will take the form of localized generation, energy storage and loads that are better facilitated and returns measured.

Growth of universal solutions and mid-market

  • The major investor owned utilities (and select visionary smaller utilities) paved the way with regard to smart grid rollouts and pilots. These utilities created the business case and have showcased both the upside and pitfalls of smart grid. Now armed with knowledge, smaller municipalities, co-ops and mid-market utilities will deploy scaled pilots to provide benefits across the majority of the market. With the growth of this market, there will be a demand for scalable technology solutions with limited capital investment that can be spread across a smaller rate paying population.

Importance of secure communication infrastructure

  • Again the most important aspect of the utilities landscape is providing reliable power. This reliability is hinged on not only providing service but also providing reliability through security at the device, home area network and back-haul network. As smaller and mid-market utilities, as well as larger investor owned utilities, face these challenges a large portion of the next stage of smart grid will focus on compliance and strength.

Responsibility of the full spectrum of premises as opposed to the home

  • The first vision of smart grid was sold as a consumer enablement. Realistically, the future of smart grid focuses on the commercial customer as opposed to the home. Management of the home utility network has limited returns while commercial consumption not only creates returns that hit the P/L but can create focused opportunities for utilities to focus on grid health and load management. Demand response has already created

Simplifying operations management

  • Prior to the recent technology push, operations professionals relied on tried and true practices that spanned nearly 100 years. With the availability of sensor arrays, load management tools, outage management software and digitized assets at the premise level, operations professionals are bombarded by complicated interfaces and valuable information. For any of these professionals to do their job, they require integrated, real-time dashboards to drive real-time business decisions. The future of distribution automation and the self-healing network relies on real-time decision making.

The future of smart grid looks but bright, but is hinged on significantly different values than the smart grid of 2005.

September 17, 2011

SmartGrid 2.0 - How Smart Apps and Devices, 4G transform Utilities?

Please welcome our newest blogger to the Smart Utilities team, Deepak Pelluru. 51480.jpgDeepak's first blog centers around the next generation of Smart Grid and the impact of smart devices and communication infrastructure on the traditional utility.

SmartGrid 2.0 - How Smart Apps and Devices, 4G transform Utilities?

By Deepak Pelluru

SmartGrid is the buzzword in the utility firms across the world which purportedly yields magical results such as ability to predict energy consumption patterns for effective load balancing of power supply based on the demand, bi-directional communication between consumers and utilities for optimizing the peak time demands, demand response from the consumer side, providing visibility and analytics to the end consumers about the power consumption by their devices etc. All the above result in preventing black outs, creating energy efficiencies, cutting down carbon emissions etc

Even as SmartGrid is being acknowledged as the 'way to go' for most traditional utilities, there is already the next generation i.e. SmartGrid 2.0 in the reckoning which is an intelligent software driven, smart device, smart equipment and topology 'aware' grid system spanning across the generation, transmission and distribution pieces of the energy supply chain.

SmartGrid 2.0 is also being touted as the 'SoftGrid' with intelligent software at the heart of the whole system. I think it will be to the utilities industry what the digital 'soft' switches and routers were to the communications and internet industry. This will transform the utility ecosystem from a collection of electro-mechanical devices to a system that is similar to the communications ecosystem with all the devices such as grids, substations, transformers, transmission towers and meters being controlled by software. I believe that just as we have the telephone exchanges and routers or mobile network equipment controlled by a real time Operating system software (e.g CISCO, Nortel, Ericcsson etc), we will also have the transmission and distribution equipment of the power grid run by customized Operating system software. All the devices on the power grid will be linked either by a communication network such as a WAN which is made possible thru' the power lines themselves or via a 3G or 4G mobile network. Each device will have an IP address and can be tracked as well as send and receive messages/commands.

The devices on the power grid starting from generation and going all the way thru' the transmission and distribution equipment will be 'aware' of each other's presence on the network thus spanning a network of topology aware devices. The Smart devices in the customer premises like the Smart A/Cs, Smart Washing Machines, Smart Toasters etc will also be IP based networked devices running on embedded software and connected over a 3G/4G network which can send and receive bi-directional communication to and from the Grid as well to and from the end consumers.

I will now take a trip into the future on my time machine and see how the life of a common man will change with these contraptions. Some illustrations that come to my mind are as follows:

  1. The smart devices on the customer premises such as the Smart washing machines and their ilk will have an UI akin to today's smart phones, which are connected to the Internet as well as to the Utilities Grid. They have Smart Apps which can be downloaded and installed. These Smart Apps will pass on the device status such as the power consumption stats to the Social Apps like Twitter or Facebook or via SMS to the users Smart Phone. The end consumer can control the power settings and schedule runs using Smart Apps based on the information that these devices pass on from the grid about the power supply situation. This is taking today's "demand response" system couple of steps forward. This will be very useful in load balancing during the emergency situations when there are risks of blackouts.
  2. Much like the algorithmic trading that happens on the world's leading stock markets, the smart devices of tomorrow will have Smart Apps that make possible the trading of energy within and across the grid depending on the power load and the offering price. Consumers can buy and store energy when it trades at a price point as well as sell the energy produced by them (using renewable sources such as solar, wind and geothermal energy) at a price point. We might have the global energy trading stock market existing in the near future for all we know!
  3. The power grid which will be a network of interconnected IP devices will be 'self healing' as it is self aware and can manage the power routing via different routes when there is congestion in a particular line. This will be similar to the way internet routers send traffic along path with least traffic. This will help prevent overloads in the power lines
  4. The diagnostics that are sent from the various 'topology aware' devices can be analyzed centrally and give visibility into the functioning and health of the devices at any point of time. Either the problems can be fixed remotely via the IP network or help can be sent to the physical location of the device which can be determined in conjunction with a GIS system such as Google Maps. This will go a long way in preventing distribution efficiencies and enhancing reliability of power availability. The power losses can be tracked and traced and preventive action can be taken to fix these power losses and thefts at any point in the power grid.
  5. Like we have the mobile apps on today's smart phones and tablets, we will have a plethora of Smart Apps for the different types of Smart Devices which can be used for bi-directional communication between the end user and utility firms which will help usher a green and carbon free world.

In summary, the utility industry is all set to see a revolution from an electro-mechanical based devices to a world of Smart IP Devices with freely downloadable Smart Apps which will improve the energy savings, balance energy demand and supply as well as bring the renewable sources of energy such as solar, wind, geothermal, oceanic current based etc into the main stream power grid and integrate all these seemingly disparate elements!


September 13, 2011

Smarter Workforce for Smart Grid

Building Workforce of the Future (WoF) has been a key priority for utilities for some time now. While "ageing workforce" was the earliest driver, it truly became a critical business priority with the advent of Smart Grid. We see WoF initiatives taking center-stage in many Smart Grid demonstration projects. That is rightly so.

Smart Grid technologies touch every aspect of power supply and delivery. The traditional meter to cash infrastructure based on 1-way communication is being replaced by a complex communication infrastructure with devices in the field that enable 2-way communication. Big changes are coming in Distribution and even Transmission and Generation sides with renewables integration, PEV and energy storage. I talked about the importance of customer engagement in my earlier blog. That is only one side of the coin though. The big changes mentioned above need significant investment in enabling the utility workforce who must lead customers through this change. This workforce has to be technology savvy, dynamic and adaptive to change. This is in contrast with the majority of the utility existing employees coming from Boomers generation.

Is that an insurmountable problem or is there an opportunity for the utilities? I believe Smart Grid opens up a world of opportunities here. With greater avenues to innovate, be creative, learn new technical skills in a dynamically changing environment, and a sense of social and environmental responsibility - utilities finally can craft a message that would resonate well with the new generations. That is not enough though. There has to be changes on the ground to attract and retain the right talent to build the WoF.

There is good industry-academia partnership on Smart Grid technologies but limited progress has happened on building curricula and university courses on Power Engineering focused on Smart Grid. Millennials prefer to collaborate and network but that is not the traditional work environment at utilities. Social Media is gaining some attention from customer engagement perspective but it is mostly ignored from WoF perspective.

Finally, it will take some time before the pipeline of new generation starts entering the workforce. The training of existing employees is important not only to build the base support structure in the meantime but also to bring the required organizational changes to induct the new workforce smoothly. Given the diversity of job tasks and employee profile, I will leave this subject for another blog.

All in all, I have a feeling that how smart the grid is might ultimately depend more on the smartness of employees (Operators, CSRs, Linemen, Troublemen, Technicians etc.) than that of technology or customers. Let me know if you think I am exaggerating.

September 5, 2011

Tomorrow - "Grid Should Not Die"

One key aspect of Grids of tomorrow is- it should be able to provide un-interrupted power to the customers. In other word "grid should not die". In order to achieve this or the make the supply down-time minimum, the most widely discussed technology among utility experts in modern era is 'self-healing'. This is considered to be key aspect of Smart Grid.
Self-healing - from the terminology itself it is clear that it deals with 'automatic restoration of supply after any breakdown or automation prevention of breakdown itself'. This is directly linked with 'Reliability' of power supply. For years utilities are striving to become more reliable. This newly evolving technology is proving the utility a great hope to overcome this age-old pain area.
As of today there are two different versions of self-healing grid-
1) SCADA/DMS/ADA - The utility SCADA/DMS has evolved over the years. This system was initially developed for centralized remote monitoring and control of the huge utility transmission and distribution network. The older version of SCADA/DMS system was reactive in nature. This means when a fault will occur in the network, the operator will receive an alarm from the system and then will in turn will isolate and restore the system (if possible from remote, otherwise intimate field crew for necessary action). All these manual intervention in an automated SCADA/DMS system was increasing the time for restoration of supply, in turn affecting utility reliability indices (SAIDI, CAIDI, MAIFI etc.).
Then comes the next generation advanced SCADA/DMS system integrated with advanced distribution automation (ADA) system and advanced application system. New modern SCADA/DMS application like FISR (fault isolation and service restoration) and FLOC (fault location) are basically designed for fast and automation restoration of supply after necessary isolation in case of a fault scenario. This drastically reduces the human intervention in automated system and improves utility reliability significantly. But this modern SCADA/DMS with advanced application built in them comes with a high cost also. This is one aspect of self-healing grid.

2) WAMPAC (Wide area monitoring, protection and control) and PMS - This is a more advanced way for monitoring and control of utility transmission and distribution network beyond conventional SCADA/DMS system. Even with the advanced SCADA/DMS system utility was only able to achieve faster isolation and restoration than before. But still it is a 'reactive system' as it can only work after a fault occurred in the system. The WAMPAC system integrated with advanced protection system (like PMS- phaser monitoring unit, based on synchrophaser measurement technology) can actually generate an alarm prior to actual occurrence of a possible fault and allows the system itself or the operator to take necessary corrective action prior to occurrence of the fault to avoid the fault.
This system is becoming popular very fast, as it can prevent Blackouts of a huge transmission and distribution network as it occurred in California in 2001.
This is also an advanced version of self-healing grid.