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.

« December 2011 | Main | February 2012 »

January 30, 2012

Behind-The-Meter: Manage Demand to Match Supply - Challenges & Benefits

In earlier blog we discussed how with participation of demand resources under demand dispatch program can stimulate action towards further optimizing grid operations. In this blog let us see challenges and benefits of this program.   


As a consumer, my interest would be to see how I get benefited in terms of my energy billing and what incentives do I get by participating in demand response/dispatch programs. Whereas, utilities need to come up with the intelligent framework where they could meet grid optimization and provides incentive schemes to all types of consumers which encourages them to participate and respond to the needs of the grid.  Generally, in supply-dispatch scenario consumer borne the cost of increased generation during peak demand but if generation were better utilized then consumer would be paying less for their energy usage. Demand dispatch and other smart grid applications such as Demand response not only improves the utilization factor but also makes consumer happy when he sees the reduction and incentives in his monthly bill.


Following are the key insights of the value that might be created by demand dispatch programs:


·         Improves the reliability, peak demand management, utilization of demand resources and energy efficiency throughout the value chain.

·         Provides the most economical pricing of meeting demand for utilities and energy usage for consumers.

·         Benefits all types of customer (not only those participated in DD program) in grid by reducing the real time price of wholesale electricity in market. Eliminating the overall cost of generating & transporting additional power from supply end during peak demand in turn brings down the retail price of unit which helps clearing the wholesale market at low price.

·         Improves the carbon foot print which helps in environmental benefits.


As this program provides potential benefits so as there are challenges which cannot be avoided and needs to be address for this program to be successful. Following are key challenges:


·         Smart grid technologies and infrastructure shall support the seamless integration and operation of demand resources within electrical grid network.

·         Architecture defining the breadth and depth level of demand dispatch monitoring and control in the grid network. A decision on what demand resources would be integrated and for how long they will be available for monitoring and control.

·         Data Management and Integrity - Smart grid itself faces challenges with huge amount of data handling. In this case demand resources participation, monitoring & control and reflecting the correct compensation/incentives data, adds more complexity in terms of data management and integrity. Will this overload the system and cause the system to collapse under its own weight.

·         Framework defining clearly the regulatory policies and interoperability standards for this kind of program. Demand resources are located behind-the-meter and ownership, liability etc. issues need to be address clearly and completely to define the boundaries and area of jurisdictions.

·         For this program to be successful one of key requirement is the high level of customer participation which brings in the enough demand resources that will make the significant contribution in demand management program. Customer shall be encouraged, educated and attracted so that they accept participation into this program.

·         Security of system and data will be one of the major challenges for the utilities.

·         Well define compensation model which will drive customers participating into this program.


In today's power system world, customers are insulated from the utility wholesale operations and pay bills as they receive with not much control over the charges. Programs like demand dispatch will integrate the customer and help balance the supply-demand by modifying the way they use and purchase electricity.  Interestingly with Smart Grid and Demand Dispatch programs, future electric power system will see a robust and widespread link between customers and gird operations. With this I leave discussion open on this concept and readers can drop in their views and ideas.

January 26, 2012

The Emerging Smart Grid for Water (Part 2)

Following on from my first water smart grid blog the simplest area to consider is smart metering, and indeed a lot of Smart Grid ideas in this area can be transferred from the energy sector. As I have blogged before however, certain aspects do not appear to add value, such as two-way communications, as there is limited benefit in interfacing with water using devices, as the use of those which with high usage (such as toilets) are controlled by 'human factors'. Such extra functionality also impacts meter life. Value is however added by more frequent meter reads (potentially in real time with customer displays via proprietary units or PC/smartphone), fault alerts (e.g. leakage), accurate bills and more understanding by the customer of the impact of their behaviours on water usage. Customer perceptions can be further enhanced by an effective self-service portal. These benefits, coupled with suitable MDM/CRM software at the supplying company, can lead to a smarter customer experience.

A water Smart Grid however can be far more than just smart metering. Control of networks is variable around the world, typically with reasonable real time knowledge and control of water supply networks, but very limited in sewerage. However with the latest control and instrumentation technology, coupled with suitable software, real time management of networks is very possible, and there are a number of very good examples, for example Paris water source mixing and Cardiff sewerage control strategy. Such tools also allow for more proactive management of networks, and indeed performance management software can both efficiently manage risk and enable beneficial comparisons of sites, leading to significant savings and service improvements.

Such benefits will however require the use of leading edge solutions in the technology, engineering and IT areas, as well as substantial organisational changes. It is unlikely that any once company will be able to offer all of these solutions, thus effective working partnerships will need to be established. Likewise water utilities will have to instigate a substantial business change process, especially in regard of the various departments, such as operations, investment, regulation, customer service and finance, in order for the full benefits of a Smart Grid to be realised.

A comprehensive water Smart Grid is thus already possible, and will increasingly become more effective as technology improves, but it requires a change in industry attitudes, especially in regard of departments and organisations working together.


The Emerging Smart Grid for Water (Part 1)

'Smart Grid' is a terminology now well understood in the energy market, but largely not used in the water sector and networks are generally discreet, not in grids. There has been a number of articles on a water Smart Grid, with many of the ideas being discussed focus on transferring Smart Grid technology from the energy few sector. There is indeed a lot that the water industry can learn from other sectors, but there are a few key differences that need to be considered:

·        The water industry not only supplies a product (potable water), but also collects and manages a waste (sewage);

·         As water is stored, daily peaks and troughs in usage are far less important than in energy;

·         Conversely daily peaks and troughs in wastewater flows can have major impacts;

·         As stated above, water networks are seldom in grid arrangements, with each area (albeit sometimes very large) being discreet from other zones;

·         Network failures (leaks, blockages, etc.) can go unnoticed for some time;

·         Domestic smart water meters are battery powered, with sealed circuitry, so there is a balance between functionality and life.

I will cover some ideas for a water smart grid in a further blog to follow this one.

January 25, 2012

Partnering for success

As I walk around the floor at Distributech this year and reflect upon my 20 consecutive events, beginning with DA/DSM in 1991, I continue to be impressed by the breadth of solutions and the great camaraderie of the vendors that come to this show year after year.  Sure, there have been ups and downs in attendance and we occasionally grumble about spending more time talking to each other than with customers, but hey, that's show business.  Through these interactions great ideas are born and new partnerships are formed resulting in smarter solutions that think out of the box. Drop by our booth #4528.  We'd love to hear your ideas.

January 20, 2012

Financing Cost - Ways to reduce the cost of financing energy delivered to customers

Utilities are in a business where traditionally utility purchases the energy and then supplies it to the customer. Customer energy consumption is measured and at the end of the billing period, a bill is generated and sent to the customer. This means that the utility provides energy to the customer on credit basis and the credit is settled once the payment is received from customer. So the Utility finances the purchase of energy till payment is received. The goes through a cycle of financing peaks on a periodic basis and during cold winters or hot summers the financing peak increases due to increase in energy consumption.

There are multiple ways Utility can try to control the financing peaks, and here are some of them.

1. Billing Sooner -  Reducing the time between billing end date and the time bill is generated and sent to the customer.

2. Billing more frequently - Some utilities bill their customers monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly or even half-yearly and yearly. With increasing in number of days in a billing period, the financing cost increases. So billing more frequently would reduce the billing days and thus decrease the financing cost. But there has to be a balance between the reduction in financing cost with the increase in cost due to 
a) additional meter reading required to bill
b) sending out additional invoice to customer (material cost and delivery cost)
c) acceptance or opposition from customer to pay frequently

3. Pre-paid billing - This is the best option for utilities. There is absolutely zero financing from the Utility for the energy used. But on the other hand it is customer who is financing the energy for themself. 
In this case utility has an option to pass on the benefit to the customer through better rate.

4. Reducing payment time - Trying to get payment as soon as possible.
a) Reduce the payment due date
b) Provide incentives to make payment earlier
c) Provide multiple channels (more online channels) to make payment
d) Take payment in advance, typically implemented for large commercial customers and settlement is done every billing cycle before the new bill is sent out to the customer.

January 18, 2012

FLISR (Fault Location/Isolation/Service Restoration) - A key Advance Distribution Automation Application - a 'MUST' in Smart Grid Control Room

In this blog, I am going to highlight one of the Advance Distribution Automation application module- 'FLISR' (also called FDISR), and it importance in future Smart Grid control rooms.
After occurrence of any fault, the key challenge to any power distribution utility is to locate/ detect the faulty section, Isolate the faulty section and restore un-faulted areas, as quickly as possible. Faster the restorations after fault- better its impact on Reliability Indices (tangible benefit) and grater is customer satisfaction (intangible benefit). This FLISR/FDISR module addresses this particular challenge faced by utility.
FLISR module, integrated with 'Fault Indicators' installed at field can locate or detect the faulty section (the section between two switchable elements) and automatically generates switching sequence (SPM-switching procedure management) to isolate the section and restore the un-faulted areas (if alternative source exist). By a single click on the button, all the necessary Isolation and Restoration steps can be performed, automatically, isolating the faulty section and restoring the supply. This module can significantly decrease the Fault Location/Isolation/ Restoration time, compared to conventional SCADA/DMS system (with monitoring and remote control facility only). The module therefore has a direct impact on 'Reliability Indices'- a key KPI for any utility.
Another key functionality of this module - if more than one options are available for Restoration (in N-2 scenario) of un-faulted area, then this module provides all the possible option for restoration, along with the voltage/current index and technical loss impact on distribution network, after restoration, with all these possible options. From there the operator can choose the best possible way for supply restoration. This functionality has a significant impact on 'power quality' in post restoration scenario.
This module will also help the utilities to become sustainable in future. How? Here is the answer- In post fault scenario, the efficiency and quality of 'isolation and restoration' depends on the experience and skill-set of the individual operator in SCADA/DMS control room. There is no doubt that an operator dealing with the network for last 10-12 years is expected to isolate and restore in a faster and efficient manner than a new person in control room. But this FLISR module will help to reduce this gap between an experience and a new operator, as the network control will effectively move from person dependent to system dependent, leading to a sustainable future for utility.
As of today the module, when operated in a real time SCADA/DMS system, has one key 'Operator Interface' only, i.e. generation of SPM, which operator can validate before execution. This stage is provided keeping utility's 'safety practices' in mind. The automatically generated SPM can be validated in 'network simulator' mode (a functionality of SPM) before execution in real-time system. As more and more utilities starts to deploy this module successfully, confidence on this module is also expected to increase, the day is not far away, when this 'SPM-validation' step can be by-passed (looks a bit ambitious at this stage) and direct execution can be allowed from the module itself (today this functionality is available in offline FLISR modules only). This will lead to further reduction in 'restoration time in post fault scenario'.
Due to these above features, I strongly believe that FLISR/FDISR module is a 'must' in all future Smart Grid control rooms.

January 17, 2012

Smart Grid Analytics : What it really means?

In many of the meetings with Utility executives and experts in last couple of month, I noticed one common theme that is "Analytics". Almost all of the people I meet these days in Smart Grid circles talk about Analytics. As one of the favorite subject I thought of sharing my thoughts on this subject.

Analytics is a very broad topic and has a different meaning to different people.

Hence I like to use a new term when talking about analytics, that is "Contextual Analytics", which can do the justice to the definition of analytics based on the audience one is talking to. What I mean by "Contextual Analytics" is that the objective of outcome or purpose of analytics will differ in different contexts, e.g. when you talk to an executive or manager responsible for grid operations he will have need to have "Operational Analytics", v/s an executive responsible for program management of large Smart Grid Programs where the context will change with resepect to what will make sense to Program Director/Manager. Similarly an executive responsible for Customer Service Operations will have a different needs for analytics than an executive responsible for Regulatory Affairs or Power Delivery.

This is what I call "Contextual Analytics". Hence in the context of Smart Grid I don't think a single definition of Analytics can cover all aspects of Smart Grid Analytics.

So what does Analytics really mean in the context of Smart Grid?

I would say Analytics in the Smart Grid context is the basic building block to implement a Decision Support System that will help shape the day to day operation of the Utility of The Future.

Why so? Well let's consider this, almost each and every business unit/department of an Utility (implementing Smart Grid) has embarked on a project that is going to generate new kind and category of data. The understanding of this new kind and category of data does not exist because there is no precedence to it. These new data will have to be correlated and analyzed in order to make business sense and take business decision out of this data. Classically Analytics has been performed on historical data and very few use cases (and instances of these use cases) can be found where historical data is correlated with the new data for the purpose of analytics. Smart Grid needs both classical analytics as well as real-time and near real-time analytics for effective and efficient analytics that can deliver business value.

An ideal Smart Grid Analytics will be able to collect, correlate and analyze the data and events from heterogeneous systems and applications across business functions, operational technology and information technology and produce actionable analytics with a single pane of glass to support a decision support system via data unification. Here data collection and correlation needs to happen from both historic as well as real-time sources. This Decision Support System when applied in individual contexts will enable to implement "Contextual Analytics".

One of my area of interest is mathematical modeling & algorithms to solve complex real-life problems. Hence Smart Grid Analytics is one of my favorite subject.

I will write more on this topic in my future blogs to keep the discussion alive. This is my point of view about smart grid analytics and hence please provide your critical comments and suggestions on this blog.

For more information about what we at Infosys are doing in the area of Smart Grid Analytics please visit us at Distributech 2012 @ San Antonio, TX where will demo our Smart Grid Integration & Analytics Platform "Smart Integrator" and Contextual Analytics as part of Smart Customer Portal (Customer Service Operation Context) & DSM (Energy Efficiency Context).

January 4, 2012

"Delivering a Smarter Customer Experience" - The Next Generation Customer Self-Service

"Imagine the scenario, John is a utility customer, every month when he gets his electronic utility bill by email, he logs onto his utility account, checks the bill details, verifies the bill, and analyzes the factors impacting the charges. He then makes his online payment.

On a stormy night when there is an unscheduled outage, he immediately gets an update on his smart phone providing the outage details. Within a few minutes he gets a tweet from the utility field crew with an update on the restoration status and estimated resumption of service. The power is restored as communicated.

John gets a Facebook status update from his Utility Company requesting his opinion on a new tariff plan. John checks out the details of the tariff plan, logs on to his utility account and performs an online rate analysis to determine the savings based on his consumption pattern - it looks beneficial. He changes his tariff plan online and gets a confirmation of the action. John provides his comments on the new tariff plan and posts it to Facebook and his Twitter account. 

Ann, another utility customer, and John's neighbor reads his comments, and investigates the new tariff plan. She logs onto the utility portal, and accesses the new usage analysis tool which she uses to monitor her consumption during peak hours. She checks out the new tariff plan and signs up as well."

The rise of the digital consumer fuelled by the omnipresent nature of smartphones, tablet PC's, converged devices, supported by evolution of Smart Grid and appetite for social media, is driving utilities across the world to implement self-service strategies or review existing implementations. 

As almost every household is a customer for the utility, the utility's self-service portal is exposed to a wide range of user personas by age, education, profession, ethnicity, gender, internet exposure, etc. Taking into consideration the above facts, some of the top strategies to consider when building the "next generation" self-service portal are based around the following aspects: design, content, access and functionality.

Next-Generation Self-Service Portal.png

With the technology and customer behavior shift, the next generation Self-service will grow from a "Bill Presentment and Payment" portal to be "Personal Account Representative". Utility now needs to make best use of this to translate the experience from 'customer self-service' to 'customer engagement' to realize their business benefits.