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.


January 20, 2020

Smart Grid Big Questions

As we move to smart grid, or what is called Distribution System Operator (DSO) in Europe, there will be a fundamental change in electricity supply. In order to deal with the more extreme peaks and troughs of supply, there are 2 options: vastly increase network capacity, costing billions and causing massive disruption, or to manage power at a local level. DSO assumes the latter case (as no one is prepared to pay for the former), however this will move the systems from an 'on demand' basis, to some form of rationing. 'Rationing' means that people will sometimes have to wait to charge their vehicle, or to supply the network from their DER, as if all possible sources and demands were used at once, then that would cause the network to fail.

However, it is not reasonable to expect companies or organisations who provide electricity to set the rules for rationing. These rules will be complex, as they must cover example such as below:

1. Consider a street where the network can only manage 10 EV's on fast charge at any one time, but 20 people want to fast charge at the same time and are willing to pay the premium price for that fast charge. What rules determine who gets the fast charge, and who must wait?

2. Price is also an inequitable mechanism for determining access to charge. Consider someone who works for the emergency services and may be called out at any time. Should they have to pay a premium price to ensure they can attend a call out? This could apply to others we rely on, such as tradespeople who deal with emergencies (e.g. plumbers, electricians). Such people may also be on lower wages than others who do not have to attend emergencies.

3. There is the issue of the vulnerable customer categories, and company registers for these. This area will need to be revisited, as the current categories are based on need for supply, not on flexible demands. For example, older people can go on the register, however most could be very flexible as to when they charge their vehicles.

4. Peer to peer trading present several challenges. 2 people/groups/organisations may arrange to trade, however a constraint on the day means that this is not possible, as it would overload parts of the network. Quite apart from the commercial considerations (who is liable for what?), what priority should this trade take? For example, a trade may be arranged from a DER to a production facility, but this takes all the capacity from a local network, meaning that there is not enough power for a community hall, and local groups (often the only real support mechanisms in villages) may have to cancel meets. Without some form of overall rules for the DSO to base decisions on, who gets what and when would be difficult to determine.

5. There is also the issue of different types of flexible use. For example, winter evenings would cause a peak in Heat Pump usage but may also be when many need to charge their EV. Normally one would expect heating homes to take priority, however that may not always be the case (e.g. item 2). What rules would apply here to ensure critical vehicles are charged, whilst not leaving people with cold homes?

6. In terms of DERs, these will increase, including Vehicle to Grid (V2G). Overall demand and network constraints will mean that none are likely to be able to supply the maximum power that they could. What are fair rules around what DERs get used and when? If not carefully thought through, some could sell a significantly higher percentage of their available power than others, again not an equitable position.

7. In terms of DERs and flexible demands, it is likely that as these increase some level of work will be required on the network (e.g. reinforcement). Who should pay for this work? Some getting EV charging points may be on low incomes, and not able to pay for the reinforcements. However, should others who have not got the new facilities subsidise their provision (i.e. through their bills)?

The examples set out above are only a few of the social dilemmas that will need to be resolved before DSO can deliver on its promise. Such matters can only be determined by Governments and Regulators in consultation with society at large. The time to resolve these issues is however getting short, as the drive for large Electric Vehicle and local Distributed Energy Resource deployment is increasing across the world.

August 16, 2019

A Smart Society

As we move towards smart electricity grids, there is a lot of focus on the technical challenges we face. These include the equipment, sensors, instrumentation and controls to manage the physical aspects of the smart grid, as well as the OT and IT that will be needed to control it. These changes represent a major shift in how networks are controlled, right down even to phase.

There are however many societal issues that will also need to be addressed. At present many, including some regulators, are assuming that the necessary changes of use, such as time off-sets, can be achieved through appropriate pricing structures. However in other sectors, such as water, where metering has been introduced to reduce consumption, in some more affluent areas consumption has actually risen. When questioned the customers responded that they could afford whatever water they wanted.  This sort of response could prevent a smart grid solution from working if driven totally by economic measures.

Consider a street where many customers have Electric Vehicles (EV). This street can sustain, say, 10 cars on a fast charge at any time: more would lead to thermal issues. The theory is that by making the fast charge price much higher than the trickle charge, the number of customers requesting fast charge would naturally be limited. However it is more than possible that far more than 10 customers want to quickly recharge their EV, so that the EV is available for full use as soon as possible, and are willing to pay the premium price for this benefit. Moreover, the most likely time for this to occur would be early evening, when many have just arrived home from work: this is already a peak period for electricity use. The network system operator would have no choice but to curtail some of the fast charge requests. However, how is this managed? Is it always on a 'first come, first served' basis? If so, those who have the shortest commutes, and hence potentially have less need for the fast charge, would always be the people who would get this facility. Such a situation would give rise to discontentment in those who could not get the fast charge facility, and likely to cause neighbourhood disputes.

The above situation is just one of the possible societal impacts that could occur should the move to smart grid just be kept at the technical and economic level. There are many others: for example where peer to peer trading, or vehicle to grid supply, has to be curtailed due to network constraints. I believe that the industry, governments and regulators need to start a debate in society where such matters can be considered widely. The recent grid outages in the UK, and subsequent press coverage, shows that even the mainstream media has very little understanding of how electricity networks operate. Without wider understanding, and appropriate debate about the choices that will need to be made, the industry will struggle to deliver the expected benefits from smart girds, and moreover could receive a lot of criticism.

Given the international push to greener technology, such as EVs, this societal debate needs to start now.

April 26, 2019

Utility Regulation: some considerations for the future

Utility regulation is generally complex, no matter where in the world it exists. By nature utilities tend to be a monopoly in the areas they serve, as there is generally only one utility connection of each type (water, electricity, gas, telecom) serving a property. Governments are rightly concerned that customers receive good service and value for money, however does the regulation need to be complex, and are there issues that are not being addressed through regulation?
Utility regulation is commonly split into two areas, the first being customer service. Various qualitative and quantative measure are used here. For quantative measures, time of response to queries, and the avoidance of repeat queries, are generally used. Qualitative measures are based on some form of structured survey of customers who have contacted the utility. Companies are then ranked against each other, and in some cases these rankings used as incentive mechanisms (i.e. the top ranked gains incentives, the bottom ranked loses incentives).
The second area is investment. This covers new or replacement assets (capital expenditure, or CAPEX), and maintenance of existing assets (operational expenditure, or OPEX). Sometimes these are combined in net present value (NPV) or similar calculations to give 'benefit over time' values (total expenditure, or TOTEX). Recently there has been a focus on base operating expenditure (or BOTEX), however this is really a subset of OPEX. Regulators ask utilities to prepare business plans for future investment over a period, scaling risks (e.g. asset failures), issues (e.g. population growth, climate change) and opportunities (e.g. improved quality) against expenditure options. After some discussion between regulators, the utility, customer bodies, other regulators and government (local and/or national), a business plan is agreed for the particular period. The utility is then measured against this plan by the regulator.
However is this overly complex? Whilst the customer measures are simple, in reality most customers regard a utility as a 'fit and forget' service. As long as clean water comes out of the taps, the toilets flush, the lights come on and the gas flows, then they are happy, subject to them paying what they regard as a fair price. The prime focus should therefore be on providing a reliable and safe service. Reliability of service forms part of regulation in some cases, but not all. In terms of investment, the main factors that affect cost are the distance to provide the service and the number of units provided. So for each customer, the more units provided and the further this has to travel, the more that service will cost. There is therefore a curve that can be drawn against units and distance per customer, with companies below the average curve performing more efficiently.
All of the above mechanisms do miss a key issue, and that is ageing assets, an area largely not addressed by current regulation. Many utility assets are old, and replacement cycles very long. For example there are electricity cables over 75 years old, and water mains and sewers over 150 years old. Current replacement rates mean that water mains would only be totally replaced after 150-200 years, and sewers 400-600 years. The replacement cycles for electricity and gas are similarly long, with transformers often only replaced after 80 years. Are such timescales realistic, or are we building up problems for the future? A good measure for any utility would therefore be the 'residual life of assets'. Across their asset base this 'residual', or time before failure, should at least be maintained, or ideally improved, so that burden is not placed on future generations. However more research is needed on rate and probability of failure, so realistic asset life for each type of asset can be determined. There has been some work in this area (such as condition based risk management and pipeline integrity management), and modern tools such as AI and Computer Vision may be a great help in such research and analysis.
So is current regulation fit for the future? I would argue that we need to both simplify measures with regard to customer service and investment, as well as building new measures to ensure that the utility is looking after their assets for future generations. We need to address these issues very soon, otherwise we may find that we are increasingly chasing asset failures. Fixing things before they break is generally much cheaper, and avoids a lot of pain for us all.

September 26, 2017

The Only Constant is Change

Everyone lives in changing times, and the pace of change is accelerating. In Utilities however, caution is rightly placed on any change, as our societies and to a large degree civilisation are supported by sound infrastructure. Nonetheless, the way we use our infrastructure will have to change radically over the next few years. Increasing population and population densities, climate change and aging infrastructure are leading to more system failures, in terms of outages, flooding and limitations on use. It is becoming more difficult to model the impacts of this change on our infrastructure, as many of the historic 'norms' no longer apply. Our universities have many research projects to try and better understand, and hence predict, how infrastructure will be affected by change, and the best options to adopt to ensure infrastructure can meet these challenges. Undoubtedly some of the new tools being developed, especially AI coupled to effective IT/OT integration will greatly assist in this area. I am helping to organise a Future Water Association conference on 4/5 December this year that will look at how we move towards 'smart water networks'.

Over the next few years however probably the area that will see the greatest change is electricity distribution. The way we both generate and use electricity is changing at an exponential rate. Embedded generation, such as wind and solar, means that supply enters the overall grid at many diverse locations, and intermittency means that the quantity of that supply will vary greatly over days and years. More demands, such as electric vehicles and heat pumps, mean that the peaks and toughs of power required will become more intense. To manage this in 'traditional' ways would mean major upgrades to the networks, which we cannot afford, either in monetary or disruption terms. Organisations are thus moving towards 'Distribution System Operation', where local networks, including LV, will be actively managed, in a similar, but more local way to how transmission networks are managed regionally and nationally.

This is the first of a series of blogs where I will start to explore what change might mean to utilities, starting with 'Distribution System Operation'.

March 14, 2017

The Security trap

Security in IT is very important. Unauthorised access to confidential information can cause major disruption to companies, and to individuals lives. Some disruption can have life changing impacts to finance and reputation. Even 'lesser' security issues, such as viruses, can cause massive damage to company systems. Breaches to Operational Technology (OT) systems (such as SCADA) in utilities could cause countrywide failures, and put lives at risk. IT security is therefore quite rightly taken very seriously by governments, organisations and individuals.

However IT security is just one amongst the many risks we all face on a daily basis. Even a major breach of a utility OT system would not have the impact of an atomic bomb, and yet the world managed to increase overall wealth, and made great strides to reduce poverty, throughout the Cold War, under the threat of mutually assured destruction. IT security is therefore just another risk that we all have to manage.

Unfortunately in too many organisations IT security is used as a reason not to implement technological improvements. For example, video conferencing between computers, and even mobile devices, is something many of us use regularly, however video conferencing between organisations is very rare, generally because of 'IT security' concerns. Sharing of information is frequently blocked, and yet shared information often increases knowledge and opportunity for all of the participating organisations. For example, Transport for London (TfL) made most of the information for its transport systems (e.g. timetables) publically available: there are now a plethora of 'apps' to help travellers plan their journeys, all of which have been produced at no expense to TfL, and increase customer satisfaction.

I believe it is a duty of those of us in the IT world to ensure that IT security is managed appropriately, and not used as an excuse to block the business and personal benefits that our innovative technology can bring. Like any other risk it should be managed appropriately and balanced against the benefits. We cannot let the few who would wish to take advantage of us through IT security breaches constrain our future.

March 3, 2017

The Asset Management Journey - into Adaptive

For utilities, traditionally most asset management was based on cycles of planned maintenance, interrupted by many occurrences of reactive work. The planned maintenance was generally based historic norms, often with little feedback of benefit. With the advent of asset management systems, both IT (e.g. EAM/WAM) and Process (e.g. PAS55, now ISO 55000), work became more planned, and was more based on benefit, drawing particularly on asset risk and criticality. Such changes made major improvements in efficiency, with reductions of reactive work from 70% to 30% not uncommon. However planned work was, and in many cases still is, based on expectations of asset lifecycle performance, and not on actual asset feedback. Whilst such proactive strategies reduced service impacts, it led to higher levels of planned maintenance than necessary to ensure optimum asset life.

Over the last 20 years industries have increasingly turned to predictive methodologies, using sensors and instrumentation, coupled with appropriate analytic software, to predict and prevent asset failure though understanding trends. For example, a large transmission operator uses transformer load measured against ambient and internal temperature. A band range of 'normal' internal temperature against load and ambient temperature is mapped, and the system flags when internal temperature is outside of this range, so that checks can be made before any failure. Increasingly such tools are using machine learning which further helps to predict 'normal' asset behaviour. Asset management has therefore moved from Reactive through Proactive to Predictive.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools, such as Infosys NIA, are now starting to be used in asset management. These new methodologies use the AI engine to collate, compare, analyse, and highlight risks and opportunities. The tools can use structured and unstructured data, static and real time, and have the ability to take data from disparate sources. The systems will increasingly refine understanding of asset behaviour based on multiple inputs, such as sensors/instrumentation, third party data (weather), social media feeds, and impacts flagged by external, but publically available, sources. The tools will then be able to advise courses of action based on current events. They could also then be used to model possible scenarios, and advise actions and impacts based on their understanding of inputs against outputs (stochastic modelling +). Such tools will enable an organisation to continuously adapt its asset management strategies and implementation to current and future events.

I call this Adaptive Asset Management.

October 14, 2015

10 key pointers for an effective Web-GIS implementation leveraging ArcGIS Server

 The following pointers came out of a couple of large Web GIS implementation experience in the Utilities domain using ArcGIS for Server version 10.2.1

1. Never try to replicate your Desktop GIS into Web
We have been using GIS as a desktop application since ages. It is a natural tendency to adopt a similar view in the web as well. Long lists of layers in the Table of Contents, plethora of tools that are seldom being used, North arrow, Measurement scale, are few things that remind us of a Desktop GIS. Build Application for targeted audience - give no more features than what the users absolutely need. Restrict them within a (work) flow so that they can navigate your app with ease. Always remember that your web GIS users are not GIS experts.

2. Map server is the key to the success!
Pay special attention while creating your map services. ESRI has made it very easy to serve your spatial data. However, serving them optimally can be very tricky - particularly if you're targeting hundreds of concurrent users. Follow some basic rule of thumbs - create multiple map services instead of one; no more than 8 to 12 layers in a single map service; try to keep symbols as simple as possible; try not to use Definition Query; follow the n+1 rule while setting up for the 'maximum number of instances per machine', n being the number of cores; allow Windows to manage page file automatically (in case of virtual memory).

3. Avail free base maps and other services from Bing, Google or ESRI
No matter how cleverly you prepare your base maps, I can assure you, they are not better than all the base maps that are available for free. Instead of concentrating on a killing base maps that you will use as a backdrop for your GIS data, use one that is free - as a bonus, you will be saving the trouble of updating them as well.

4. Choose your frontend technology carefully
Not many options are currently available for delivering a frontend API.  For a wider audience, use  JavaScript and HTML5 - unless you're developing some features that are not mature enough in this environment.

5. Keep mobile devices in mind during design
More and more people are online on mobile devices, than through their PCs. However, though the majority of these online users are mainly in the social networking sites during this time, they do see maps in their mobile devices ( Think of different screen sizes your users will be using to browse your app and plan for accommodating 'Tap's along with 'Click's.

6. Initial load time should never exceed 8 seconds
The average adult's attention span, for a page-load event, is around 8 seconds ( Today's users, with the availability of information at their fingertips (taps?), become increasingly impatient for the wait time. On opening a page, if it takes more than 8 seconds, majority of the users will 'X' it out. If you want a wider foot print for your web application restrict the initial load time to 8 seconds, quicker the better.

7. Display non-spatial data spatially
Integration is commonplace in today's GIS. Display of Non-GIS data within GIS is a norm rather than an exception. There are various ways you can integrate - try displaying data on the map as graphic texts rather than in a table within the map. Spatial distribution helps us see patterns that tabular display fails to provide.

8. Pay more attention to User Experience over User Interface
User Experience (UX) is mostly (but not completely) achieved through User Interface (UI). For example, when you provide a zoom-in feature in a mapping application, you can implement that as a command (fixed zoom-In) or a tool (for a user to draw a polygon on the map to zoom into). This is UI. However, implementing a zoom-in feature as a tool can have a different UX depending on how you have programmed the cursor for 'after zoom-in event'  -  retain it in zoom-in mode, or take it back to the default mode(which is usually a pan), when finished. For a better UX, always provide a feedback to the user for each action they perform.

9. Know your users (behind the scene!)
Knowing your users is the best thing you can do for your application. There are some products out there that can capture user statistics, map server performance, number of hits, etc. but they cannot capture an individual user's feedback. If dissatisfied while using your product, majority of the users will not complain and issues but will stop using your application. User survey is another option but they fail to give you a clear picture because of poor participation. It is always a good idea to capture the user feedback behind the scene. For example, if you have a customized 'search' button, log each of its click events.  Try to capture who is searching what and how long is it taking before they see the results. You can fine tune your application based on this log; even, give them a 'hint' on effective searching.

10. Secure your application
Security comes with a price. While Confidentiality and Integrity are achieved easily, Availability is sometimes compromised. It restricts your application to a lesser footprint. Whether to 'Share' or to 'Secure', will be dictated by the business requirements.  At the least, you should always secure your map services through token and Secure Socket Layer; make sure the Server Manager is not visible from outside of your firewall.

Continue reading "10 key pointers for an effective Web-GIS implementation leveraging ArcGIS Server" »

April 2, 2015

The Utilities Data Dilemma

Increasingly utilities are being directed to big data, and all the benefits that appears to offer. However such calls miss a fundamental issue, in that asset data is an expensive element for utilities, both to obtain and to maintain. Most utility physical assets are geographically widely spaced, sometimes in locations difficult to access. Costs can be quite high, for example a manhole survey can average >$100. The EPA estimates 12 million municipal manholes in the US, so a 5% validation survey would cost circa $60 million! Surveys can also have complex health and safety risks that need to be managed. For these reasons asset data is often limited, and of dubious quality. Sensors and instrumentation are improving, being both cheaper to install, run and maintain, and more robust, nonetheless they are still relatively expensive items.

With asset data being limited, suspect, and costly to improve, and sensors and instrumentation expensive to deploy, smarter utilities are looking to make better use of the information they already hold. By using a combination of engineering knowledge coupled with effective analytics, trends can be mapped and normal asset behaviour determined. Where data is readily available such analysis is relatively simple, however where asset data is limited engineering knowledge and understanding can be used to define relationships between the seemingly unrelated data sets. The key is in understanding how data sources can be meaningfully linked.

Large Business Information systems may thus be of limited value to utilities in terms of managing their assets. Of more value is the effective linking of dispersed data sources, coupled with an effective, easily configurable analytics engine. Such tools have already been used to answer many asset related questions, such as the viability of rainwater harvesting in differing regions and climates. It is indeed possible to answer many of the asset related questions posed by utilities, even with the limited asset data many hold. Each question is however individual to the specific situation, so only those who can understand both the engineering and system elements will be able to successfully deliver beneficial results.

June 12, 2013

Winning with Volt-VARs - How to do it the smart way?

Winning with Volt-VARs - How to do it the smart way?


I've written about the benefits of volt-VAR optimization in my previous blog. An important question that has to be answered by the utilities which are looking for implementation of such a program is "How do we do it?"

Utilities looking for dynamic reactive power and voltage optimization, if it is a new network expansion, should initially consider revisiting the design of their power distribution networks. It should be ensured that the network has adequate transformer sizes for reducing losses, minimal feeder splice points and optimal conductor sizes enabling efficient flow of power. This should ensure reduced energy losses and reactive power losses from physical assets point of view without any major capital investments.

As a next step for the new networks  (and also for the existing power networks) , utilities should consider conducting a complete engineering analysis using network analysis software to ensure optimal sizing, quantity, and placement of capacitors and regulating devices that will optimize voltage management and VARs across individual feeders of the distribution area. With the advanced engineering analysis software available these days, it is possible even to determine the optimal step sizes of the compensation devices.

After choosing the best configuration from engineering analysis, the compensation devices with intelligent controls and communications can be installed onto the system with interface to central analytical software to decide the capacitor control device and distributed voltage regulator settings throughout the network based on the dynamic load data.

Installing such an advanced Volt-VAR control system can help mitigating the impact of the penetration of renewables on the grid. Especially, plug-in electric vehicles and photovoltaic penetration can dramatically impact the system's voltage profile, thus affecting the quality of service.

Another key factor is to have analytics applications for sensing when high penetration renewables come online. This feature of renewable energy forecast will give insight into what's happening with the bi-directional power flow and will help in arriving at more accurate estimates of the volt/var compensation devices required for the system.

The accuracy of sensing data is also significant since voltage is normally managed within much stringent norms. Adequate Communication bandwidth and low network latency are also vital factors that utilities should ensure for obtaining quality data in near real-time for accurate control decisions.

Please share your views on the possible ways and necessary steps to implement smart volt/var systems in the grid.


May 22, 2013

UK Parliament All Party Parliamentary Water Group Innovation event May 2013

Yesterday I went to the UK Government All Party Parliamentary Water Group evening meeting on securing sustainable water resources for the future. This short event was chaired by Nia Griffith, Member of Parliament for Llanelli, with talks by Dr Dan Osborn, NERC (National Environment Research Council) and RCUK (Research Councils UK) lead at Living with Environmental Change and Chris Phillips, Chief Marketing Officer, i2O Water.

Dr Osborn talked about the World Economic Forum identifying water supply crises as one of the largest global risks, thus with many new challenges and markets appearing: this from a global market of £500 billion, and about £120 trillion in assets. UK research bodies had budgets of £120 million in this area, with for example Councils spending £13 million on drought research.

Mr Phillips described the world wide success i2O were achieving with their innovative pressure management solution and their close links to research (they are based in Southampton Science Park). He felt that, if properly established, UK water industry competition could lead to a boost in research funding.

A number of interesting discussions were then held. A large number felt that the cyclic, and sometimes short term, nature of work in the UK water industry made innovation difficult for the supply chain, as with tight margins and fluctuating workloads such investment was not feasible. Many felt that the UK needed to increase innovation, and learn from other countries, however generally it was perceived that UK expertise was still valued. Others highlighted the achievements of SMEs in the world water market, indeed UK SMEs, as well as contractors and consultants, were quite successful in the other countries. One gap identified was that the UK was not always as successful in turning research into effective solutions for the market, and more government and industry support was needed in this area. The only negative note was when Nia Griffiths asked if anyone from the utility companies had any comments: no-one from a utility had attended the event!

The official event concluded promptly as Nia Griffiths had to vote, however informal discussion carried on for some time. Overall I found the event very helpful, and believe such meetings should be encouraged in the industry.

May 2, 2013

To build or not to build

The recent deal signed by Centrica to source shale gas from the US from 2018 onwards appears on the face of it an assertive step in establishing a continuing strong role for gas in the UK. This comes on the back of the UK government's Gas Generation Strategy and establishing of an Office for Unconventional Gas and Oil for exploration of shale in the UK itself. But beneath the surface of these developments there remains a great deal of uncertainty on how gas consumption will play out in the coming years, particularly in the power industry that uses gas to generate power.

Continue reading "To build or not to build" »

November 21, 2012

Winning with Volt-VARs in Smart Grids

Electrical utilities across the globe are focusing on distribution automation (DA) in order to enhance efficiency, reliability and capacity of the grid. As the energy demand is soaring high and new power-hungry technologies like electrical vehicles proliferate, utilities are forced to seek newer means for meeting peaking requirements of the power system. In addition to this, the proliferation of green power adds to the volatility of the voltage due to the inherent intermittency in the renewable sources.

Volt-VAR Optimization is a popular smart solution for addressing these concerns, which not only reduces power losses (I2R losses) from distribution and hence in transmission systems but also can enhance the much-needed capacity to meet future demand. Lowering dependency on carbon-emitting generation sources to meet the peak demands is an added advantage of Volt-VAR optimization. By establishing centralized coordination between Volt/VAR control devices using advanced Volt/VAR control solutions across the distribution grid, utilities can achieve higher operating efficiencies of their systems. This in turn will avoid additional investments in the utility asset base for capacity building and also enhances the productivity of the existing assets. The utilities can immediately realize the benefits of smart grids both financially and quality wise. Adding layered intelligence in the system will give a greater degree of flexibility and redundancy in case of contingencies. The major benefits of advanced Volt/VAR optimization solutions for the utilities can be the following:

Released system capacity: Advanced Volt-VAR control solutions reduce the necessity to transmit VARs over the system. This improves system stability capacity due to released line loading which otherwise would have been higher due to circulating VARs. The utilization of the assets can thus be improved implying that more number of customers can be served with the same assets. Also, utilities can avoid the investments in the system augmentations due to this released system capacity. By implementing effective communication and coordination between compensating devices on the feeder, controls can work in greater synchronization thus eliminating hunting and cycling issues.

Reduced losses: Volt-VAR optimization solutions help to reduce losses that occur during the distribution of electricity. Decreased VAR circulation results in lesser current in lines and hence lowered copper losses. Utilities can lower their energy purchases and the associated carbon emissions.

Reduced Reserve Capacity: To meet the peak demand requirements, fossil fuel/gas fired generators are used in short-term. With the implementation of effective Volt-VAR optimization, the reserve capacities can be avoided and this would result in direct financial benefits to the utilities.

Peak Demand Curtailment: Usage of advanced solutions for Volt-VAR control will allow utilities to cut down peak demand through voltage conservation. With voltage conservation, a slight reduction in voltage can reduce demand on the system as the power consumption is proportional to voltage exponent. These solutions give full control to the utilities and do not rely on consumer action as part of a home energy management program or a load control program that turns off their air conditioners. This avoids the uncertainties. Volt-VAR controls can be deployed quickly and easily while offering the flexibility of layered intelligence that can be tuned up into any future deployment of a larger enterprise-wide system.

 Apart from the economic and operational benefits, historical data from the Volt-VAR system can help identify design inadequacies of the system. This will help in making future optimization efforts far more effective.

Please share your views on other significant benefits of Volt/VAR optimization.

August 27, 2012

Need of Power quality information in Smart Grid

Today's grid is pacing towards smartness with use of smart appliances, smart communication technologies and lot of integration of OT/IT systems which inurbanely introduces more number of  electronics devices within utilities operations umbrella. While doing this we not only have to benchmark the grid reliability but must also focus on the sustainability and efficiency of grid.  One of the ways is to address more seriously the quality of power delivery and information on quality of power. It's not that utilities are not doing this presently but they have to do it more precisely as now utilities have the technologies that can provide more frequently and lot of information on quality of power. Now utilities do not have to do the aftermath analysis to find out the root cause of a problem and mitigate the future occurrences of it. The smart meters and other smart devices in the network has the capability to provide information on quality of power which can be used to detect and alert signs of an equipment failure beforehand to the utilities where a prognostic approach helps in time to prevent the occurrence of any serious situations. The key performance indices of utilities such as SAIFI, MAIFI, SARFI etc. not only improves but can be projected on the go to all the executive level across the departments of an utilities on a mobility devices which in a way help utilities to be in sync with updated information and operations point of view anytime and anywhere.

With increase participation of distributed energy resources in grid and with nature of intermittency the impact on the grid voltage variations are high and grid is more prone to power quality issues such as voltage sags, transients, overvoltage, increase in unbalance, flickers etc. When distributed generations are connected to grid, the steady sate voltage limits are challenged in case of lightly loaded long feeders and intermittency nature represents the source of flickers and sags in the electrical distribution network. When a fault occurs repeatedly for very short duration on distribution feeder it is not significant enough for tripping of protective devices and the feeder is exposed to high currents for very short durations with repeated voltage drops several times in a day. The connected electrical equipments on this feeder are exposed to extreme thermal and electrical conditions which degrade equipments performance and life. The smart meters with capabilities of capturing the total harmonic distortion and other power quality parameters can send this information to a centric location such as distribution control center where power quality and voltage monitoring applications can play a significant role to highlight and alarm such conditions of the network for immediate attention of operator.

 In smart grid world the need of solutions with more emphasize on power quality monitoring & predictive analysis applications will play crucial role in pre-diagnosing the problem and avoid the circumstances leading to abnormalities. The advance distribution management system with applications like Fault Location isolation and restoration (FLISR), integrated volt-var control (ivvc), demand response operations management, power quality &voltage monitoring, distribution system energy analytics and condition based monitoring will provide enormous capabilities to improve utilities reliability, sustainability and efficiency.

Need of power quality monitoring and analysis will no more be an offline study but will be one of the critical applications on the dashboard of a utility operators. Such applications will ensure the quality power deliverance respecting all the regulations and recommendations. Power quality aspect in smart grid will ensure the reliable, sustainable and efficient power delivery model.

July 20, 2012

Vehicle to Grid Technology to boost clean energy in grid

Vehicle to grid technology might be a significant step for renewable energy based electric power generation in order to overcome barriers such as non-manageability and unpredictability in the power output. So far, wind energy shows the highest short-term and long-term potential for supporting transport electrification. Photovoltaic energy might also provide electric power in isolated localizations through garages with photovoltaic covers.


Vehicle to Grid technology, in the coming years might have the same driving strength for renewable energy sources like wind and solar power very much like internal combustion engine had in the early 1900s for petroleum industry. The batteries of the vehicles may be recharged when there is spare wind energy available. Using vehicle to grid technology, during peak hours, stored electricity might be supplied to the distribution network. Here the vehicles serve as a distributed storing system, akin to pumped storage plants. The scale of the storage however is dependent on the thousands of vehicles in the service area which are parked most of the time.

The bidirectional power flow in the network and electric vehicles integration creates the conditions to integrate electric power generation and transport vehicles, thus opening up new avenues for wind power and other renewable energy sources into the power market.

Fossil energy sources such as petroleum ,coal and natural gas are flexible enough to adapt themselves to the power demand curve, enabling generation modulation according to demand. On the contrary, power generation from wind cannot be controlled by generation companies or Independent system operators (ISOs) managing the transmission network. Same is the case with other renewable energies like solar, tidal etc. This scenario poses a limitation. Impossibility to manage wind and other renewable energies is limiting them to an arbitrary 10 to 20 % of the grid generation as exceeding this limit would cause insurmountable difficulties in managing the network. However, with the technologies like PHEVs combined with smart grid infrastructure, this challenge can be met. Meeting of electrical demand for the huge PHEV fleet shouldn't be an issue keeping in view the development plans of renewable energy capacity projections for 2020.

In the near future, it will be possible for reversible electric networks in which lithium batteries of PHEVs with vehicle to grid technologies will be able to store electric power produced at night and during lean demand periods and sell it to the network for a good price during peak hours. Such an ancillary use has met its share of scrutiny from the experts keeping in view the quantum of transport fleet needed, the infrastructure development and above all the efficiency and environmental concerns. In my view, this concept is possible however it is also an obligation. This not only requires a huge fleet of vehicles with V2G technology in operation but also a synergy between renewable energy sources and electric vehicles, mostly in network management. I think it will be a challenging task for the distribution utilities to get geared up to meet this scenario, especially when it comes to network augmentations, up gradation of existing protection schemes etc. I will be discussing some of these challenges in my next blog.

July 6, 2012

Lights, Thermostats and Locks

Lights, Thermostats and Locks


Is that all there is to our new advancing convergence of utility and service markets for the homemaker and small business owner, "Lights, thermostats and Locks"?  First off, why "Lights" doesn't anyone understand that lighting is one of the least users of energy in the home or small business?  Yet, whenever we see a discussion 'lighting' seems to be an important part of any program.

Likewise Energy Management Systems, even those touted to be 'advanced' don't seem to ever venture beyond traditional direct load control (utility shuts off a device, such as A/C compressor, pool pump, water heater, etc., in peaking period for a specified time), or via Programmable Controllable Thermostats ("PCT's") where a price signal is sent to a thermostat to set-back the cooling setting for a specified period, or a 'display' showing current pricing, total usage and (sometimes) a projected usage.  We even have Alarm Companies that are offering 'monitoring' systems that also control lighting, thermostats and lock/unlock doors.  Wow! These new functions and features are really great!  You might think so if all you could see was current advertising and "hype" around the new services offerings from your local electric utility, cable provider or alarm monitoring company. 

It seems that every mind numbing energy management system has been designed and built upon the premise that the consumer must be (somehow) made 'aware' of their consumption (and current pricing) so that they will make the 'right' choices in their energy purchases and then "they" will use a few simplistic functions surrounding "Lights, Thermostats and Locks".  But can't we do much, much better? It seems to me that our message here should be that "people can (and will) make better decisions with better information". Isn't that what utilities are trying to provide? 

While there is truth to that, smart meters by themselves only tell you when you are using a lot of energy...what they lack is an accompanying toolset to "do something about it"!   So, why can't we create a choreographed household that manages energy usage (possibly by device and groups of devices), that balances price to need, learns consumption and lifestyle patterns; and, importantly can analyze the interplay of multiple energy sources/options, and current and future usage against current and projected needs to produce the most efficient solution.  This sounds real interesting, but is it really possible?  I believe it is, and that it is achievable by building upon current mainstream AMI technologies. 

Here is where as an industry I think we lose sight of who the target audience is...if it's the general public they will think this is mumbo-jumbo (no offense) because they have no idea what THEIR benefit is to doing all of this.  So clearly we need to do a much better job of educating them on what value is in this for them (back to my point above about providing people with better information to make better decisions).  I also agree with the assessment that the real answer is favoring automated-intelligence over pieces of hardware (which is what dominantly is being marketed right now).

For this to work correctly we need significant change--and the new AMI technology is just the beginning.  The first of these are the rates that utilities charge consumers of their electricity; and for these new technologies to work all customers need to be charged time of use rates.  To me, this will produce a more equitable system.  For those willing to collaborate with the utility, they should be rewarded and those that do not collaborate should have to pay extra.  Everyone is suggesting that TOU is the starting point, but to me if you want to be radical - then we need a more equitable system. For example, if I keep my thermostat set at Energy Star settings all year long, but all my neighbors keep their AC at 60 degrees, I am actually paying for that (in the form of shared common utility costs).  So their overall capacity cost share should probably be more than mine since they exert more overall demand on the system than I do, especially at peak load times. But all of this will not happen without a revamp of our regulatory environment as well as an overall energy policy.  Here is another core issue...utilities/consumers have been benefitting from prior-decade decisions to build power plants and we have been riding that benefit.  Many of those plants across the country are about to reach their end of life.  Utilities need to invest in new generation, but without a comprehensive energy policy I could inadvertently create a new plant that is "taxed"/penalized because of the latest whim of politicians.  A comprehensive energy policy (not REGULATIONS) could provide the appropriate roadmap.  Maybe we even suggest a "grandfathering clause" for a plant that's built and/or upgraded specifically to adhere to that energy policy.

Typically each consumer is charged for three general categories of services; (1) a general customer charge, (2) a usage charge for how much you use over the billing period, and (3) a capacity charge (for how much maximum demand you actually place upon the system at some specified time; think of this as how fast you turn on the water), but right now the capacity charges are typically only called-out and detailed for very large commercial and industrial customers; while it's embedded within the small commercial and residential rates.  In today's world your local utility has to build and operate their system to meet all three of these demands that you actually may place upon their system. But they bill you individually based upon the aggregate of the group you're within. So when you behave responsibly and raise your thermostat on really hot days you're paying the same rate per kWh as your neighbor that runs their house at 66 degrees all summer.  So while they are actually consuming far more expensive energy they are actually paying the much cheaper average rate and you are helping to make-up the difference.

Residential and small commercial customers generally make-up the largest blocks, by numbers, of customers for a utility; but may be eclipsed in overall load caused by the utility's very large industrial customers (which may constitute a fairly small number of accounts).  Further the residential and small commercial customers may often also have the greatest variability between low average usage, average usage and peak usage; and even more so during extreme peak periods.  Thus these individual points of seemingly low consumption become significant matters for utilities when they are aggregated into 10's of thousands and even millions of customers.  So systems and programs that can positively influence the actions of these individual customers can have significant impacts at the utility level.  Therefore the message from the utility to the customer is simply, "you can make a real difference in your impact on the environment and your monthly energy costs".  A good analogy is recycling...every little bit helps but you really get a social benefit when everyone participates.

However we also need to remain aware that individual consumers are not ever going to become energy wardens and spend a significant part of each day monitoring and controlling their energy consumption.  The key, to me, is that we need to try and begin to address the entire premise by providing technologies and customer rate programs that you can set-up/configure and then (essentially) forget.  We need these programs to provide a way to make decisions based upon the housing/premise characteristics, energy-consuming devices and life-style (or business type) of the utility customer; and the system needs to know enough about the various energy consuming, storage and generating devices to learn and optimize their use to match current and forecast conditions and lifestyle events. 

But all is not lost as I'm starting to see evidence that utilities and technology vendors; and PHEV/PEV manufacturers are starting to address these issues.  For example, in Spain, Endesa (one of Europe's largest electric utilities) is moving toward integrating the charging and battery storage capabilities of PHEV/PEV's.

(Endesa enables electric vehicles to return power to the grid;

In Texas, TXU Energy has announced a rate plan for "Free Nights".  Through this rate plan consumers will get free energy from 10 PM to 6AM of every day.  I'm hoping to see next "Free Nights and Weekends".  I'm also anticipating that perhaps TXU might bundle this with upgraded air conditioning, like an ice-based chilled water system, perhaps?  Then perhaps we could see room-based zone heating/cooling?  Pneumatic zoning in very economical; maybe in the new TXU world this type of A/C should be designed in with any new/retrofit install?

Then again on the PHEV/PEV front we have Toyota offering a charging system that is starting to look like a precursor to a whole-premise energy management toolset.

"Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC), in collaboration with its customer service IT company, Toyota Media Service Corporation, has developed a tool to support easy home-based charging of the Prius PHV plug-in hybrid vehicle, due for launch next year, and electric vehicles (EVs). Toyota Housing Corporation, TMC's house construction and design subsidiary, will start sales of the tool, the H2V (home-to-vehicle) Manager, in Japan in January 2012.  PHEV users can connect (wired or wireless) to the H2V Manager from a home PC, television or smartphone to set or adjust their PHV or EV charging start time, as well as check household electric power consumption. The same operations can be performed remotely with a smartphone, through the Toyota Smart Center.

When necessary, the H2V Manager automatically interrupts PHV or EV charging when household power demand spikes, and then resumes charging when there is spare power capacity. This function prevents circuit breakers from cutting off power supply when a large number of home appliances are used simultaneously, pushing electricity consumption beyond the home's maximum voltage."  The logical next step seems obvious.

So perhaps I was too harsh in my complaint about lights, thermostats and locks.  Maybe we're really moving in the right direction with the real-world application of Smart Grid.  I'd just like to see it happen a bit more quickly with less emphasis on the single small steps and more on the whole house (or premise) approach.

May 8, 2012

Vehicle to Grid technology to help Ancillary Services like demand response and boost PEV sales

776_1.jpgThe V2G (Vehicle-to-Grid) concept has been around for some time, but it's only now, due to the development of some very sophisticated technologies and some aggressive targets, that we can expect to see more electric cars on the roads enabled by the direct beneftis of V2G.

The V2G concept is actually very simple. The batteries of a PEV (Plug-in Electric vehicle) still have minimum energy stored even after fulfilling the average driving need of an user. These vehicle owners can participate in programs where grid operators will be able to control the vehicle's battery use during peak times and get some amount of electricity back to the grid, while crediting the vehicle owner for these grid services. In the end, the vehicle owners will also have control of how much energy he/she wants to put back into the grid considering his immediate driving needs. 
V2G can play an important role in the following -
  • regulation services which helps in keeping voltage and frequency stable, 
  • spinning reserves which helps in meeting sudden demand for power,
  • charging at night during low demand and providing power back to grid during high demand
Even though utilities are increasing their reliance on intermittent renewable generation capacity like solar/wind power but still additional backup options like V2G would provide greater reliability in the case sufficient wind and solar power are not available. 
Based on different government initiatives and market traction increasing numbers of PEVs are expected to be on road within the next few years and this will create the tipping point for PEV. Larger numbers of PEV's will create a cost-effective alternative to stationary energy storage and traditional short-term power plants, which are currently used for these ancillary services. However, substantial infrastructure investments, strong growth in PEV sales and innovative vehicle based technology will decide the success of V2G. 
V2G could be an additional incentive for increasing PEV sales where cost is a major factor. With this Vehicle owners can quickly recover the cost of a PEV by putting it into maximum use (regular driving need as well as selling ancillary services) which otherwise will take longer with just savings in gasoline. Note that most of the current generation PEV batteries will last long enough even with frequent charging than the normal life of a car's regular use.

May 7, 2012

Smart Grid - Regulatory Perspective


Currently, Power Generation, Transmission & Distribution companies alongwith Power Trading Exchanges and End-Consumers are independent entities. The Smart Grid is expected to integrate these entities and allow them to interact with each other and respond to situations in real time. This will require huge infrastructure in terms of network, smart devices, field equipment, IT applications etc. and will result in massive cost of implementation.

A Smart Grid project entails heavy capital expenditure and the benefits are realized over a period of time. Therefore a stable regulatory framework is of utmost importance. This framework will devise a mechanism for achieving balance between the cost & risk involved in implementation of such a large project.

It is important to carry out Cost-Benefit analysis before deploying smart grid technologies. But due to lack of established and proven technologies of these kinds, it's difficult to calculate cost and benefits. We do not have benchmarks available across the globe which can throw light on the social impact of such type of implementations. However, decisions regarding cost allocation of smart grids versus grid upgradation make it tough to measure the returns besides other issues such as uncertainty about customer participation and effectiveness. Another challenge is the fact that benefits will accrue over a long period of time.

In setting a stable regulatory framework, utilities have two options with them. The first one involves sourcing external funding in the forms of loan, grants and Public Private Participation (PPP). The distribution utilities could partner with a smart grid technology company to invest in infrastructure and work out a revenue sharing arrangement, which will not put burden on accounts of utilities. The other option is to factor in the capital expenditure while calculating return on investments and increase the tariffs on a temporary basis. These tariff hikes will be offset by monetization of benefits accrued at a later stage.

Project viability could be exhibited through pilot implementations. This could help in setting the benchmark regarding cost benefit analysis, measuring social impact in terms of customer behavior, readiness of infrastructure to take such a huge load etc. Regulators could consider using time of use or variable pricing or a combination of both for tariff differentiation for a set of segment where the pilot project has to be implemented.

These options would be the stepping stone for the formulation of smooth and balanced regulatory framework and utilities could have a stable environment during implementation of Smart Grid Technologies.


Continue reading "Smart Grid - Regulatory Perspective" »

May 4, 2012

Gamification - Energy Savings can also be so much Fun!!

785_1.jpgIn today's environment, Energy savings has become a top priority for both utility and consumers. Today's customers are demanding and proactive. They want the right data to make informed decisions, and choices for themselves. Utilities are doing their bit by providing a lot of energy saving tips and information to customers on their website/ portals. However, customers are challenged with too much data, less time, and are overloaded by the monotony of searching through the avalanche of content.

So how do we make it interesting for the consumers?

Enter the fun and game quotient - Gamification as a concept is increasingly being used in multiple industries to promote work through play. The idea is to make the work interactive, point/score oriented encouraging competition.

So can we apply it to utilities interaction with their consumers to make it interesting?

Of course, let us look at a couple of examples.

  • Energize your home - Energy efficiency education through interactive games/tools
    • Rather than having multiple pages of static content on what can be done to save energy, the utility can implement an interactive visual model to impart the information. The visual model will show the customer's home profile information.
    • The customer can play a game by implementing energy saving tips like switching to CFL, or replacing an old refrigerator. Each change will show the cost, and annual possible savings with the change.
    • Overall Dashboard will have an 'Efficient home usage'score considering efficient appliances/heating/cooling, and 'My home usage' will change as the customers energize their home with more efficient energy saving devices.
    • The goal is how quickly the user can make his/her home energy efficient and closer to 'Efficient home usage' score. In the process, the user learns a lot of tips on saving energy.
  • Energy Champ -Foster energy savings and reduced bills through competition
    • Competition and peer pressure is a great way to drive people to achieve results. Utilities can encourage users to sign up for a forum/competition for improving their energy quotient - improve energy savings, reduce their bills.
    • Based on home profile information, display customer usage, similar home usage (in the forum), and ideal home usage. customers can be tagged  into Red, Orange, Green categories based on their usage.
    • User can sign-up for reducing their average usage for next 'X' months by certain goals - XX%, and be rewarded for achieving results
    • Polls, blogs to share questions, and ideas on what worked - using social media for education

While all these game ideas are good, it is important to keep them simple, interactive, and at the same time play oriented. Even, 'bragging rights' in a forum is a great motivator, especially with the younger demographics in today's consumer base.

Let your customers' nJoy energy savings!!

April 27, 2012

What is Customer "Empowerment" anyway, and How Can Utilities Get Started?

There has been much discussion about utilities needing to provide greater customer "empowerment" as a requisite for the emerging "smart grid" world we are now entering. But beyond this nice buzzword, what does "empowerment" really mean, and how are utilities supposed to start down this path of providing it? If we look at our industry today, energy and water consumers are generally not provided with a lot of information related to how they consume what utilities deliver - namely electricity, gas and water. We are typically operating within a paradigm of providing consumers with a monthly bill of "consumption" with no meaningful presentation of data that allows consumers to take action. Certainly there are many utilities that are well down the path here with some sophisticated programs, but generally speaking we are all just beginning this journey together. "Empowerment" is important on several fronts: 1) against the backdrop of more efficient production and consumption of resources, consumers represent a critical element to meeting these objectives, and 2) in an increasingly competitive industry landscape, consumers will be drawn to utilities (including energy retailers) that best "empower" them in how they can more effectively consume energy and water. Cost savings is one element, but the "green" element is also important to many consumers. There are many pieces that can be put in place to achieve a "big bang" approach to greater customer "empowerment." Over time, it seems pretty clear most utilities will embark on this journey. But for the large number of utilities that are just beginning these initiatives, what is a good place to start? From my perspective, deploying a web self-service portal for utility consumers is a relatively low cost - and low risk - starting point to go beyond the traditional paradigm. A portal, even as a deployment within existing legacy systems, will expand the types of customer service channels available to consumers, and can begin to "empower" them with greater and better information on their energy and water usage. The key of course is to select a portal that not only provides immediate benefits around account management, bill presentment and online payment, but also one that can adapt and expand as new components and systems like AMI, MDM and upgraded CIS are added to the mix. Deploying a portal in this manner provides the immediate benefits to utility consumers (and to utilities through lower live agent support costs), while providing the vehicle for more advanced "pilots" involving real-time analytics and energy efficiency/demand management programs which will take more time to mature in the market.

April 24, 2012

Why not to enable the customer self-service in traditional way...

Customer self-service areas have been dominating by the "custom" work done by utilities since last decade. Traditionally it is being preferred to deliver the self-service by utilities' "own way" rather than leveraging the best practices across industries....of-course choices & options were also limited.

Continue reading "Why not to enable the customer self-service in traditional way..." »

April 13, 2012

Role of Data analytics in Smart Grid

Data is the lifeline of any business. We all know that most of the organizations, whether public or private take day to day business decisions or strategic decisions based on data generally stored in large data repositories. The Power distribution utilities are not an exception to this. Smart Grid envisages to deploy several integrated critical applications / systems like advanced metering infrastructure, robust billing engine, various avenues of collection of receivables, geographical information system, asset management systems, field force management systems etc. leading to generation of tons of data. The smart move would be to convert this data into useful information to benefit the power distribution utility. 

In a power distribution utility there are several sources of data. Mentioning some of them for reference purpose. One of the major sources of data is Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), where most of the energy related data comes from. The deployment of smart meters on power transformers, distrbution sub-stations, distribution transformers, High tension feeders and consumer homes enables the distribution utility to collect data related to voltage, current, active & reactive power, energy consumption, demand, power factor etc. This data is not just for instantaneous in nature but also for load profile, cumulative and tamper. Another source of data is the distribution automation system (Control and automation system fitted on various feeders and control equipments). This data would be about the normally on contacts, the normally off contacts, the faulty feeders etc. and the status of the various equipments connected to the power distribution system. One of the other major sources of data is robust billing engine which houses data on individual meter readings, consumption history of consumer, applicable tariff, payment pattern, cheque bounce history, credit history, seasonal variation etc. There could be several other sources of data like supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA), Geographical information system etc. These systems / applicationed mentioned above are indicative and there are definitely several other applications functional in a power distribution system which also generate data.   

The core challenge faced by the power distribution utilities today is to make the right decision about where to cut spending and where to invest? How to make the consumer satisfaction index go up? How to manage peaks within the given power constraints? How to optimize the operating expenses? and the list goes on.

The million dollar question is what the power distribution utilities are doing in order to make the best possible use of the plethora of data. How is this information being made use of in the day to day decision making? How is this inforation being displayed in form of a dashboard? How are the discrepencies in the system being highlighted or brought to the attention of the higher management? These are some of the questions which need to be answered along with the smart grid implementation.

Some of the benefits that could be derived by the power distribution utilities are listed below.
1. Cost reduction (Reduced operational cost on administrative, maintenance, repairs etc.)
2. Better consumer services (Faster restoration of no-supply complaints, More avenues for paying bills etc.) 
3. Improved consumer satisfaction indices (Happy consumers)
4. Reduction of peak demand (Better pallning and control)
5. Controlled and balanced use of electricity by consumers (Energy consumption)
6. Proactive load forcasting (Better planning)
7. Improved regulatory compliance

In a nutshell, Smart grid data analytics offers valuable information about the performance of the power distribution system and its various assets in order to help achieve several benefits as listed above. It all depends on how the utility makes use of this golden opportunity.

In my next blog I would talk about the various KPI's that could be measured and monitored based on the pool of data that is getting generated.

April 12, 2012

IT in Smart Grid

357_1_t.jpgInformation Technology (IT) has a significant role to play in smart grid space. Industries like banking, telecom and other business suites have already recognized the importance of information & data management using IT and now the energy companies will have to follow the same. As utilities are deploying the smart meters and smart grid solutions the role of IT will grow and will be one of the essential elements for utilities, not to a surprise. Smart Grid IT will make the today's utilities customer- centric by transforming them to understand their customer's need, communicate them effectively and provide new services that will benefit both customers and utilities.

IT not only plays an important role in transformation of  the utility - customer relationship but also equally plays and important role in providing solutions and key information to utilities operator to manage, control and monitor the electrical network in most efficient and effective way. Smart grid needs a more holistic view of how utility will operate at both a business and network level, which will require a greater co-operation between IT and OT teams. Historically IT and OT teams have work in isolated mode with a limited minimum communication between them. IT majorly focused on business process model and customer management systems whereas OT on monitoring and managing the electrical networks. Now both OT and IT have to join hands strongly to improve the operational efficiencies and drive the utility business to a next level of maturity.

IT provides a smart customer portal with key informations derived from the Advance Meter Infrastructure (AMI), Meter Data Management (MDM) applications and customer information system. It also provides utilities with smart operational and executive portals which play a significant role in obtaining operational efficiency in areas such as asset management, outage management and work force management, where there are sure benefits from a broader integration of operational and enterprise data. IT provides solutions and consultancy services to utilities which help them in their smart grid roadmap to define the new or modify business processes accordingly for e.g., the trouble call reporting and outage status information handling process changes with introduction of AMI/smart meters and OMS systems integration. With greater integration among several systems in Smart Grid space the IT will play significant role in large volume of data management & analysis, defining business process and system security. As the utility data and information will get exposed to out-of-box (utility closed entities) the need of right standards and frameworks are important for grid security.  IT can help in development of these standards and frameworks for the integration of utility data across applications and devices securely.

March 30, 2012

The pace of change - connecting offshore wind in Germany

509_1.jpgInfrastructure development in Germany moves at a slow pace. This would seem to be supported by my own experience here in seeing the relatively modest progress of a flyover being built opposite my window for the last year and a half.

The German Government is preparing a bill for the summer on how to get offshore wind connected to the grid. This is to meet their ambitious targets for renewables and forms part of the "Energiewende" - Energy Transition which is the country's "no-looking-back" approach to the Fukushima disaster of 2011. Nuclear is out and renewables are being fasttracked to meet 35% of electricity demand; with installed offshore wind expected to reach 14 GW. The green lobby in Germany has never had it so good.

The reality is that the current operational capacity off the north and east coast of Germany is only 200 MW[1] and 70 times this capacity is needed to come online in the next 8 years if the offshore target is to be met. Several gigawatts of wind projects remain "in the pipeline" but there is a lack of coordination in laying the real "pipelines", in this case the high voltage direct current HVDC electrical connections to the onshore grid. Projects are stuck in a planning and legal quagmire, with no clear statement yet from the government on how to prevent a "cable salad[2]", who will take responsibility for failure to connect and meeting deadlines between the TSOs, wind operators, suppliers and insurance companies.

Tennet, the Dutch Transmission Operator which operates part of the critical North-South line in the German grid, is attempting to address its own scheduling problems and is seeking direction from the government. As recently as last month, Tennet have called for a programme of three measures: a binding long-term offshore plan, clarification of legal liability and creation of a German direct-current grid operator. Indeed, it would appear that the key ministers in the ruling coalition, Dr Rösler (BMWi - economy and technology) and Dr Röttgen (BMU - environment) have sent out a positive signal to address the issues, and a bill is expected before the end of summer. Whether offshore wind connection can then accelerate enough to meet the 2020 targets remains to be seen -certainly the pace at which a flyover is built does not bode well.

March 26, 2012

The integrated AMI business case

Jumping off from my original post.

The evolution of smart grid technology, created an dynamic change in the evaluation of field technology for utilities. For years traditional equipment, such as transformers, meters, substation controls, had been routinely purchased without concern. But now this equipment across the board is under critical scrutiny. It is the drastic change in technology (read cost to some extent) that has resulted in this new policy. The proliferation of smart meters has led to the need for approvals at the meter level. Based on this scrutiny as well as past business case controversies for smart meters, I want to delve into the aspects that make for a strong AMI business case.

19_1.jpgAs with all business cases, we must look at cataloging costs into initial capital investment and recurring costs/benefits (eg maintainence costs, network management).

Continue reading "The integrated AMI business case" »

Two Issues that will Impede Interoperability

In developing and deploying Smart Grid ("SG") technologies we're consistently encountering two central testing issues surrounding Interoperability.  Addressing and resolving these two issues will be critical, I believe, to ensuring the promise of interoperability become reality.


The first of these is a lack of industry-wide "Use Cases" associated with Interoperability.  This is a problem because Interoperability clearly is an important key to actually unlocking the potential huge benefits provided by Smart Grid for the utility industry.  Generally "Interoperability" offers the ability to combine core business and operational systems in new ways to create new beneficial insights into utility operations and the revenue cycle; and quite possibly provide entirely new management tools for the control and management of the utility.


For example when we talk about Interoperability, we frequently talk about a Storm Scenario example.  In this we discuss how the SG system orchestrates data/sensor readings from OMS, SCADA, DA, AMI, MDMS, GIS, etc. to speed the recognition/definition of an outage, pinpoint the probable cause, define the solution, re-configure the system on-the-fly, and dispatch repair crews; all without a single customer call, or the time and expense of dispatching crews to try and find the outage source.  The problem is that, right now, each time we begin to design how this is to be accomplished and how to test this (general) interoperability functionality we have to create the solution, associated use cases and test plans as custom packages. 


A while back SCE created and shared the first widely available industry use cases for utilities that were addressing AMI.  These use cases have since become the core standards for testing and change management.  Perhaps it's time for the utility industry to consider an industry-wide effort to create Smart Grid Interoperability Use Cases as a guide to define core interoperability, testing and change management?


The second critical issue is associated with the inability to create working full-scale test environments to actually set-up and run end-to-end testing of Smart Grid systems.  Historically utilities will experience a major system change-out once every 5 to 7 years.  But with AMI/Smart Grid the pace of major system change-out has significantly accelerated.  AMI alone has brought new major systems of Head-End and MDMS technologies.  Additionally this has exposed material weaknesses in legacy systems including CIS/CRM, web-enablement, IVR, OMS, etc. and as S-G has become established within numerous operational systems.


AMI/Smart Grid single application and unit testing is an established process that can typically be addressed within the development/test environment of a utility implementing S-G.  But almost no utility is equipped in any manner to set-up the complex Test Environments and Databases needed for end-to-end S-G systems.  As a result utilities are quickly discovering that they don't really know how the completed system will work when turned-on.   Thus they must take a leap of faith that the completed full-scale interconnected system probably works and know that they'll just have to learn on-the-fly about its characteristics and capabilities.


It seems to me that this is a problem that will require the combined efforts of many of the industry's leading AMI/SG technology firms and consulting organizations.  I'll write more in my next Blog on how I suggest we address this as an industry.

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 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 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.

December 21, 2011

Smart Metering (AMI/AMR) in the Water Industry

Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) and Automatic Meter Reading (AMR), sometimes referred to as 'Smart Metering', has become a 'hot topic' in the last few years. Much of the interest has focussed on the energy sector, but installations are happening in the water sector. There has been a lot of discussion about the advantages, both to customers and suppliers, of having consumption data readily available, but there seems to have been very limited focus on the practicalities of the technologies. In order to objectively consider the most effective way to obtain and manage consumption data, it is important to understand the technologies available, in terms of the advantages and disadvantages (this makes it a long blog, so I appologise!).

Water meters have two key parts, one to measure the flow, and one to record it. In a simple mechanical meter this consists of a water vane on which a jet of water is directed, turning the vane: such units are termed velocity or speed meters. Volumetric or displacement meters measure a volume of flow for each turn of a piston are generally more accurate than speed meters and are now often used for measuring domestic flows. There are newer types of water meters, based on ultrasonic and electromagnetic technologies. These are generally very accurate, and have no moving parts, however at present they are relatively expensive, so only used for larger meters. The article in Wikipedia on water meters gives quite a good overview, if you would like to know more about them.

The measurement of the flow must be transmitted to the recording unit, generally referred to as a register. In very simple meters this is a direct drive to a series of dials, with appropriate gearing. As however direct drive requires a good mechanical seal on the drive shaft, most modern mechanical meters use a contact-less transmission system. This used to be a magnetic unit, but now inductive coils or optical sensors are more common, as they are less prone to outside interference (e.g. a magnet placed by the meter to reduce readings!). The register itself can either be a mechanical or electronic unit. Domestic meters generally only record the volume of water supplied, and not the instantaneous flow. Extra sensors can be added, such as pressure transducers, but these add to the unit cost (and maintenance issues). All modern units produce a pulse that can be read and transmitted.

Transmitters are the core of any Automated Meter Reading (AMR) system. Systems can just transmit flow, but most now have in-built memory so they can record and transmit other data, e.g. leak, meter blocked, magnetic fraud, overflow, underflow, AMR unclipped or back flow. Some AMR units have processing built into them, so analysis can be undertaken. Systems can either be uni-directional, that just transmits data, or bi-directional, which allows the meter to be queried or re-programmed. Transmission by the unit can be local (collected by walk-by or drive-by), via mobile networks (GPRS or similar), or fixed networks. As such there are a lot of similarities with electricity AMR systems. Note that transmission frequencies and protocols are a very complex area, and not one I intend to cover in this blog!

However water meters are installed in diverse locations, often in the ground, far from any power supply. Because they can be installed in locations where there is a risk of explosive gases, all forms of power supply and circuitry must be sealed. Thus most water meter AMRs (and electronic water meters) run off batteries, in sealed units, and generally it is not possible to change the battery. The unit is therefore redundant once the battery has expired. The life of uni-directional unit is about 15+ years whereas for a bi-directional unit it is often much less (depending on the number of requests made to the unit, each of these requests draining battery power). Additional sensors (e.g. pressure transducers) further reduce battery life. AMR equipped meters are circa $50, and installation typically about $80, therefore installing bi-directional units can increase the cost of ownership.

All of these points lead to questions about the shape of any Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI). In some areas the water industry has taken a 'wait and learn' stance, hoping that the energy sector will resolve most of the issues, although in some regions AMR is quite well established (i.e. the United States, where circa 35% of supply sites have AMR fitted). In all cases there is a drive for making meters 'smarter', but is this the best option?

Let us consider how data from a water meter can be used. Unless we record flows at intervals of about 10 seconds, sudden peak demands (e.g. toilet flushes) will be missed: note that current meters generally record at 1 hour intervals or less. Recording flow at 10 second intervals will lead to excessive amounts of data, and is actually of very limited use, as we already know how much water a toilet uses, and the amount of times a toilet is flushed is related to other matters! If flow data were recorded every 15 minutes this would allow overall usage to be tracked over time, and anomalies such as sudden increases or no flow to be identified.

As discussed, more functionality in the meter requires more power. As power in most water meters is finite, I believe that we should actually be aiming to reduce the requirements of the meter, thus increasing its useful life. If meters are limited to recording flows at 15 minute intervals, and transmitting the data at intervals suitable for collection (say every 5 minutes), the battery life can be similar to the meter (at least 15 years). Intelligence can then be added by external systems.

External systems can then be used for both storing the data long term, and analysing, as well of course for billing purposes. Analysis of such data is not complex, and thus could be accomplished by many systems. Some have developed specialist units, either for the consumer or the utility, but considering the type of processing required, this could be accomplished on PCs, smartphones or web engines, based on meter data management packages. The water utility could thus offer their customers the tools to be able to track, and reduce, their water usage over time, identifying high consumption.

Let us consider a possible scenario. A water utility installs water meters with uni-directional AMR systems, transmitting both by allowable frequencies and via a widely used domestic protocol, such as WiFi (with suitable security). To reduce costs with telecoms suppliers, it does not use mobile or fixed networks, rather makes a commercial arrangement with a municipal service, such as refuse collection, to host receivers on their vehicles. The municipal service downloads the data to the water utility on return to base at the end of each shift. Data is thus collected from all customers every one or two weeks, depending on the frequency of collection. The water utility then uploads the data, using it internally for billing purposes and to check for anomalies (e.g. sudden increased usage, possible leakage). It also makes the data available to customers via a secure Smart Customer Portal, who can then use the various Portal tools to analyse their usage. By entering a few details in the Portal (i.e. number of people at the address, typical water uses, etc.) the system makes suggestions as to how the customer can make water savings. If the customer gives other details, such as phone number, the system sends automated alerts flagging abnormal use. The water utility also offers its customers smartphone and PC apps, giving the same functionality as the Smart Customer Portal, but with the added benefit of viewing usage in real time using WiFi. In this scenario, not only does the water utility reduce the cost of new AMR meters (as the life of the units will be maximised), and minimise telecoms charges, but also enhances its reputation with customers, and reduces consumption.

All of the technologies in the scenario above are available now.

November 22, 2011

Microgrids, Smaller is Better

In the debate of size, smaller rarely ever wins.776_1_t.jpg However, in the debate of microgrids,one of the fastest trending smart grid arenas, smaller is better. Please check out this featured article in Fierce Energy.

November 14, 2011

Peek in to the future: A visit to Duke Envision Center, Erlarger KY

In this blog I would like to share our experience about peeking in to the future of distribution grids. The purpose was to see what future holds for smart grid customers and utilities (apart from usual customer meeting). I have decided to keep the focus of this blog to details of what we saw during our tour in to the future, i.e. Duke's Envision Center for Smart Grids. What I was expecting was to enter in to a conference hall with few equipment, meters and LCD monitors demonstrating different software applications. But when Yamur welcomed us in to the Duke Envision Center, we were awestruck looking at what we saw in front of us. It was like entering in to science fiction movie set, where they have mimicked a small city that hosted smart homes (including intelligent consumer devices like smart heater, refrigerators, dishwashers, smart garage etc.), distribution substation, power lines, poles, Distribution Automation equipment, communications equipment, smart charging station, distribution control center ....and what not. In the beginning of the tour was the demonstration of smart substation and distribution automation network. The highlight was the distribution automation technology Duke Energy is placing onto its power-delivery system. It was good to see intelligent capacitor banks and other advance distribution automation equipment installed and in action. What was nice that the demonstration of direction of power flow using rope lights. That concept is very easy for non-utility, non-electrical engineering background to see what we mean when we say power flow unidirectional v/s bi-directional. Imagine standing in front of a distribution substation and appreciating the state of the art setup to demonstrate the utility of the future. There are red rope lights coming out of the substation that show how the power is transferred to various buildings within the smart city. From the substation we move straight in to the smart home that has various displays and devices to demonstrate two way interaction of smart home owner with the distribution grid. Here is where the actual impact of digital consumer can be seen. We saw how the end user is able to receive timely data about usage and patterns in a meaningful manner to enable customers to make decisions about their energy consumption and hence use energy more effectively and ultimately save money. From the kitchen and living room we walk in to the smart garage. Here they explained the PHEV/EV charging and the work Duke Energy is doing to better understand potential impacts of PHEV/EV over the distribution grid. Now move on to the next section where there is a movie set of multi-family/commercial building site with smart meter bank on the side. The connection of these buildings with the community electrical storage can also be seen here. This is where we was Duke's vision about how they are using smart meters to improve the customer service experience, e.g energy theft prevention, seamless meter reading etc. After this section we come out on the street (still inside the envision center). This is when Yamur explained to us how devices advance technology will be used to pinpoint problem areas, isolate them and restore the service automatically (basically Fault Location, Isolation and Service Restoration aka FLISR). These parts of demonstration makes you wander are you in Universal Studios in LA or in Duke's Envision Center in KY? Here with a touch sensitive tablet device in hand Yamur kicks off the movie magic in action. The rumblings of simulated thunder overhead begin to take place and a large video monitor displays a server weather alert. What follows is lightning, and the weather report with increased severity and lo!!, the lightning struck the distribution substation with a pop and a flicker. This causes the outage which is demonstrated by switched off rope lighting. Almost in near real-time most of the section of the rope lighting relights. One can hear the loud sound of switching operations as the intelligent switches in co-ordination with advanced distribution automation applications running in control center perform the job of locating the fault, isolation and then rerouting the power from neighboring feeder. This section of demonstration truly demonstrates how the investment in to advance technology will transform the power grids in to self-healing smart grids. The storm is over, the field technicians have to work on shorter and pin pointed section of the distribution grid, and soon the service is restored to all of the customers. This is where the journey to future ends, and you are left wondering jeez this is how it is really going to work in real-life and I am sure will change the way you read, analyze and look at future of smart grid. I was so awestruck that I went on to google to see if there is a way I can share this awesome experience with my fellow readers and I found the following link on top of the good search results, which is the video of Duke Envision Center Demonstration. Please visit this video and see what future holds for digital energy customers of the future. Followed by tour to Envision Center, we visited the Smart Grid Interoperability Lab (SGIL) setup by Duke Energy in collaboration with KEMA, which in my opinion is a true learning ground. What we see here is the smart grid interoperability testing and certification lab in the back of the envision center's movie set. The SGIL provides utilities and technology suppliers an opportunity to test interoperability of the emerging products the existing grid system. It was an excellent experience peeking in to the future of digital power grids and kudos to the Duke Energy's smart grid team for setting up a state of the art envision center. Thanks to the Duke's team Yamur (Communications Specialist, Duke Energy), Steven Hinkel (Director of Advance Technology, Duke Energy) and Avery (Manager of Smart Grid Deployment Planning, Duke Energy) for providing us with the opportunity to tour the envision center.

October 9, 2011

Key Take Aways from FOCUS 2011 - Consumer Engagement

Two weeks back, we ran a series of live blog posts from the Itron User Conference (FOCUS 2011). While the posts(Day 1, Day 2, Day 3) highlighted the key proceedings from the event, I plan to share some key take-aways for me from the conference.

There were several interesting and insightful sessions offered thru key notes, panel discussions and presentations. Several leading Utilities shared their perspective on the AMI implementations and their Smart Grid journey including the lessons learned in the process.

786_1.jpgHere are some key take aways from the leading Utilities on their consumer outlook on AMI programs:

1. Walk before you Run: There was an unanimous agreement in multiple sessions that a phase-wise step-by-step roll out of AMI is essential for success. Trying to do too many things at the same time has not yielded results and has delayed many a roll outs. Utilities who have been careful in leveraging the technology with a lot of patience have had relatively higher degree of success in the roll outs.

2. Communicate to the Consumers: At every stage of the program, Utilities need to set expectations with consumers in the right context. It is not about the technology, it is about the process and the associated benefits.

3. Demystify the Truth: In this age of information overflow and digital lifestyle, a small group of extremely vocal cynics can create a huge level of public outcry against technologies like AMI and Smart Grid. This is already visible in several parts of the world. Utilities need to use the same channels (Websites/ Blogs/ You Tube/ Twitter/ facebook/ Other social media platforms) to demystify the truth behind these rumours. In other words, Utilities need to put their Ph.D. holders at work who believe in the technology and who can share the scientific facts with the general public in these channels.

4. Recognize the WIIFM channel: A senior executive from one of the progressive Utilities jokingly said in a panel discussion that his organization realized early on that the most popular FM channel in their territory - WIIFM. Consumers want to know "What is In It For Me (WIIFM) "!. Every consumer wants to know what value he/ she can derive out of this and the Utilities need to address this question.

5. English Please : A lot of positive discussion around AMI/ Smart Grid available in the public domain is technical and full of jargon. It is safe to assume that a large portion of  it is not intended to address concerns of the general audience. At the same time, the negative publicists use plain and simple English to spread their message. Utilities need to adopt a counter strategy to this and communicate in simple English what the AMI/ Smart Grid programs mean to an end consumer.

It was a great gathering of industry leaders and vendors. Thank you, Itron, for putting together yet another great conference.



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.

Continue reading "SmartGrid 2.0 - How Smart Apps and Devices, 4G transform Utilities?" »

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.

August 23, 2011

Instrumentation & Control - Enablers for self healing smart grids - Part 2

In this blog I would like to continue the topic that I started in my last blog, i.e. the role of Instrumentation & Control in the Self Healing Smart Grids. As I mentioned one of the less talked about topic (at least publically) is the Instrumentation & Control in the Smart Grid forums and conferences. As mentioned in my previous blog I would like to discuss one of the most common use case in the context of smart grids and give my perspective of how that particular use case with help of better instrumentation & control will enable implementation of self healing smart grids.


Let's first talk about different layers of automation. I would like to term the automation in three levels, Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3. My fellow readers who are familiar with Process Automation industry will be able to relate to the various levels of automation. In my view the definition of these levels of automation can be given as follows:


1. Level 1: It's the lowest level of automation that is implemented using advance and intelligent telemetry and protection field devices e.g. smart switches, relays, sensors etc. They form the backbone of level 2 and 3 automation.

2. Level 2: It's the layer on top of Level 1 automation and let's call it local control & automation applications layer. This can also be termed as the micro grid monitoring & control layer. At this level the supervisory data acquisition and control is performed at a local level i.e. within a pre-defined, self sufficient island of the grid network.

3. Level 3: This automation layer is classic distribution or substation control room where SCADA and advance distribution automation/management applications function in conjunction with the Level 2 and hence Level 1 automation systems. This is the centralized system that co-ordinates and manages functions of Level 2 automation systems such that the local controls at level 2 in one area (microgrid) don't affect grid operation in other parts of the grid network. This is important as the micro grid or level 2 automation will be theoretically isolated from the overall electrical grid or I would say rather will be self sufficient to manage the grid per localized needs from generation and load perspective, but in reality it will still be part of larger electrical grid network.


Now the use case that I want to talk in this blog is the Outage Management Use Case. selfhealing.jpgThis is the most talked about use case as AMI implementation enables Utility's OMS to automatically detect outages and service restoration. The very same use case can be greatly enhanced with the help of better instrumentation and control. With the help of advance telemetry and protection control based automation OMS will not only be able to detect outages as soon as they happen but also with the help of advance DMS (Distribution Management System) applications it will be able to automatically restore the service to affected customers.


Now, how will it happen? Let's consider with advance sensors like fault sensors, analog measurement sensors and disturbance recorders placed at key strategic locations can give status of the electrical grid (or say pulse of the electrical network) almost instantaneously, similarly the status of smart switch and relays can be instantenously known using fast SCADA systems. If above conditions are met then it will be possible to detect the outage condition much faster than what Smart Meter based outage detection, because SCADA will know open status of a circuit breaker even before Smart Meter can detect that it lost power (sending "Last Gasp Event" comes much later). Similarly using advance DMS applications like Fault Location Isolation and Service Restoration (FLISR) and with the help of digital relays and advance control network (IEDs etc) the service to the affected customers will be restored even before the OMS creates an Outage Incident (Momentary Outage Incident will still be recorded).

This Use Case can further be detailed out and I can keep writing, but I will rather stop here so that I don't lose your interest. The only point I wanted to make here is that it's the Level 1 automation (i.e. Instrumentation & Control layer) that will enable the actual self healing grids.


Now, is it possible to make self-healing grids? In theory YES, but practically not in the very near future. Unless the concept of micro grids picks up it will be very difficult to see self-healing grid in reality. Please let me know your comments and if I should elaborate more on this particular use case in the context of Instrumentation & Control.

By the way Level 1 automation in this context is Instrumentation, Protection & Control network, Level 2 automation is SCADA and Level 3 automation is integrated OMS/DMS (Integrated Outage/Distribution Management System).

Keep reading.........

August 5, 2011

Need to Create Consumer Awareness around sharing of Usage data

With the advent of Home Area Networks, Utilities will now be able to monitor consumption patterns of consumers. While this opens up substantial avenues for the Utility companies to analyze the data collected and utilize the same for meaningful purposes, the possibilities of consumer repercussions are very high...

Continue reading "Need to Create Consumer Awareness around sharing of Usage data" »

July 29, 2011

Managing Market Expectactions

A question recently came to mind that I thought might inspire commentary. What do you expect from smart grid efforts? Simple question, but when posed to a variety of different groups can have a dearth of different answers.

windmills.pngIn 2010, according to (the US government's website for tracking smart grid spending), the US spent $8.17B on smart grid projects. A little more than half of those funds were supplied by the U.S. government through ARRA funds. Given the size of this expense, it is important to understand expectations of the public-at-large.

Did you expect to see plug-in electrics? Did you expect to see distributed generation? Were you expecting to plug in your electric car at a bank of electric charging stations and zip off after a year of bolstered spending on smart grid projects?

I really hope not, because according to, the majority of the money spent on smart grid efforts in 2010 was spent on AMI. And in my opinion this is a good thing. I hate to call AMI the enabler of smart grid, but what the heck, AMI is thought of as the enabler of most end consumer benefits expected from smart grid. The smart meter allows for a digital endpoint, which relays consumption on a near real-time basis. In the end, all portions of transmission and distribution will need an overlying sensor network to enable load balancing, distribution automation, and efficiently deliver electricity.

The end goal of banks of plug-in stations and seamlessly integrated renewable assets may be an end product of smart grid spending, but initial development efforts and spending is well placed on AMI. It really is a "learn to walk before you run" scenario for the utilities industry at large. The first result of smart grid must be improved reliability, followed by balanced capacity and finally the incorporation of new assets from electric vehicles to disassociated renewables.
Do you think smart grid funds were well spent on AMI?

July 27, 2011

Instrumentation & Control - Enablers for self healing smart grids - Part 1

In my previous blog I mentioned key questions electrical utility need to answer before they start implementing (planning) smart grid projects. These questions are important and relevant due to the fact that smarter grid need fundamental changes to all aspects of the power industry viz.,Business Process, Operational Process, Physical Infrastructure (Grid, IT and Communications), IT & OT Systems, Customer Service & Interfaces.

According to DOE's definition of Smart Grid (ref: "A smart grid is the electricity delivery system (from point of generation to point of consumption) integrated with communications and information technology for enhanced grid operations, customer services, and environmental benefits". Time and again I have blogged on the topic that the focus has so far been on the "customer services, and environmental benefits" side of this definition and that distribution automation and grid upgradation aspects have been left behind during initial phases of smart grid implemenation.

In my opinion the fundamental change that need to be paid attention to now is the point number 2 & 3 of the following excerpt from DOE's smart grid vision:

The United Stated Department of Energy proposes that four types of technology will drive the advancement of smart grids:

1. Integrated, automated communication between components of the electric grid.
2. Sensing and measurement technologies.
3. Automated controls for distribution and repairs.
4. Improved management dashboards and decision support software.

Sensing, measurement, protection and control technologies and their integration with OT and IT systems is what will make our electrical grids self healing. In the NIRVANA state of self-healing Smart Grid the Utility's control center should be able to sense and repair the faults even before the AMI can communicate the last gasp to OMS. Here I don't mean to say in self healing grids there won't be any outages but the impact of an outage will be minimized to smalles possible set of customers. For this intelligent sensors and protection devices with the advanced protection schemes will have to be deployed.

In my future blogs I will continue to elaborate on use of Instrumentation & Control for the self-healing grids using specific use cases that we are developing as part of our Smart Integrator solution (a Smart Grid Integration and Analytics platform ref: Till then keep exploring Infosys vision on Smart Grids and reading insights from my fellow bloggers on Smart Utilities.

July 8, 2011

Privacy Concerns!

So this time it's the smart grid privacy concerns!

Privacy concerns are valid and affect each one of us knowingly or unintentionally. Internet search engines can track minute details of a user behavior and smart phone applications can track real-time physical location of their subscribers. Social networking sites allow us to post our personal details to share with a few friends but it can profile the users based on their web-behavior and this information is in great demand for targeted advertising!

Customers have a choice; either completely isolate themselves from sharing personal information or take the risk and trust the service providers that the personal information may not be compromised. On the other hand service providers shoulder the huge responsibility of not betraying this trust. With Smart Grid, individual behavior can be monitored 24x7 based on the flow of energy into a home. This time the exposure is higher and also camouflaged, compared to voluntary data sharing on internet or owning a smart mobile device.

"Privacy by Design" or "Embedded Privacy" are good ideas but require tremendous political will to be fully implemented. There is a need to create legal frameworks around collection, application and destruction of personal information, and with data being received at the rate of exabytes per hour, how this framework can be applied will remain a challenge in coming days.

However as smart grid rolls out from AMR to Plug-in Hybrids, privacy concerns need to be addressed while building data governance frameworks at individual projects as well as enterprise wide level.

 Also, there could be several technology solutions for handling data privacy at each stage; one of them happens to be the Infosys MaskIT. Static or Dynamic data can be masked at source (meters, appliances, plug-in cars, billing engines) and be read only by specific applications necessary for business decision making for a Utility.

This solution has been successfully implemented for Banking/Finance industry and can be leveraged for the smart utilities.

June 28, 2011

The 21st Century Grid Policy Framework

Recently I found one interesting report in FERC website. It is being issued in Jun 11 itself by Obama government and is titled "POLICY FRAMEWORK FOR THE 21st CENTURY GRID: Enabling Our Secure Energy Future"


Considering Century Grid as a process, report objectives are defined as, not to prescribe particular technologies, products etc but to enable the United States to maximize the available opportunities and address the challenges while transiting the nation to a smarter grid.

Continue reading "The 21st Century Grid Policy Framework" »

June 17, 2011

What do Utilties need to consider during grid modernization (or Smart Grid implementation)?

Smart Grids now are becoming reality of the present world, even though they are at a very early stage. In this blog I am trying to get in to the shoes of Utility strategist and give my point of view on the questions that needs to be answered while strategizing the plans for Smart Grid implementation.

There are several reasons or should I say drivers behind smart grid projects, to list a few:

  • Regulations
  • Availability of Stimulus
  • Peer Pressure from other Utilities
  • Genuine interest in grid and systems upgrades

Not matter what the reason there are several questions every utility is facing today.

Some that come to my mind are as follows:

  • What are the risks and how to minimize the risk with respect to current and future operations? Similarly what are the worthwhile risks?
  • How to keep the current operation intact?
  • How to perform compliance testing and end to end testing of the new systems, applications and products?
  • How will the changes be reverted back to the previous state if something goes wrong (the fact is the grid is operational today with the existing technology, systems and applications)?
  • What's the maturity of the new technology and how will it affect the effectiveness, timeliness and risks of the smart grid implementation?
  • How to keep the cost of implementation in control?
  • There are too many options, how to choose the best option for my utility?
  • What will be training requirements for the utility personnel? What will be the skillset requirement and availability of right resources to manage and operate the new systems?
  • Will it affect my IT budget and how much?
  • What is must have and what's good to have?
  • How to keep customers informed and involved?
  • What should be the short-term, mid-term and long-term priorities?
  • What is the dependency between short-term, mid-term and long-term priorities?

These are Challenging and exciting times ahead for the Electrical Utility Industry and there is a consensus at the high level about smart grid needs, benefits and goals. The requirement is to carefully, weigh the options and plan for the future of the electrical grids and the society.
This is what needs to be well thought during the development of Smart Grid roadmaps and plans.

I leave it up to my fellow readers to think and provide their feedback/comments on what other questions need to be answered before or during a smart grid project is implemented.

June 1, 2011

Smart Grid: What it means to the customers?

Smart Grid is considered as a large program for benefit of utilities as well as for the customers. However majority of the customers are finding it either too heavy to digest or something which will have adverse affect to the rates. Customer's apprehensions such as cost recovery of investment through the new service offerings or health hazards due to smart meter communication technologies etc., are most common.

Continue reading "Smart Grid: What it means to the customers?" »

May 24, 2011

Live Blogging from CS Week Day 2-Post 2

Per Infosys' Sanjeev Bode at CS Week 2011:

We experienced our first wave of folks to the booth for Day 2 (See pictures below)


CS_Week4.jpgGreg Kramer(left) talks to a booth visitor, while the booth is packed with other interested visitors 


CS_Week_3.jpgThe Infosys booth overflowed with interested utility executives interested in viewing Smart Integrator, Smart Customer Portal and Demand Side Management demos


CS_Week_2.pngSanjeev Bode (far right) and David Shin (middle) discuss the benefits of about Infosys Customer Service solutions with a CS Week attendee

Live Blogging from CS Week Day 2

Per Infosys' Sanjeev Bode on the second day of CS Week 2011:

Good Morning Gentlemen,

The conference is just starting - people have started to trickle into the booth area for lunch. Some of our Clients are still stuck at airports across the country owing to bad weather.

Our hearts go out to the folks in Joplin, MO who were devastated  because of the tornado.

I want to start my blogging in a different style - with pictures. After all a picture is worth a 1000 words !!!

Here is the first one: 

CS_Week_2011.jpgInfosys Utilities Team on the second day of CS Week 2011

May 20, 2011

Plug-in Electric Vehicles (PEV) readiness

"Who killed the electric car?" and "Revenge of the Electric car" are two documentary feature films by Chris Paine. Whether it is revenge of the electric car or not they are fast coming into the market. Several national and local governments have established Tax credits, subsidies and other incentives to promote the introduction and adoption in the mass market of plug-in electric vehicles (PEV) depending on battery size and their all-electric range. Almost every automobile manufacturer is releasing PEV. Now whether utilities are interested or not they have to get ready for it and they have critical role to play in the success of PEV. They cannot control the customers buying PEV and their charging patterns, all they can do is be prepared for it.
The best way to manage this would be to design new rates to attract customers to charge during the off peak hours. As much as possible utilities would like them to charge between 10:00 PM and 5:00 AM. Utilities and regulatory are working on coming up with new rate plan for PEV.  Some utilities are also designing experimental flat rates. Utilities are preparing to have new plans and get the installations done for the PEV. Some utilities are installing special meter for PEV and some are trying to manage with new rate on the same meter. There are different types of chargers that would be available in the market. Depending on the charger levels (level 1, 2 and 3) the load and time to charge would change.

Early adopters would most likely be (wealthy people or risk takers) living in same area, causing cluster issues in early stages. Therefore, utilities must first ensure they're prepared on a more localized level rather than the bulk load. While new rates are being designed to attract customers to charge during off peak hours utilities can never control when a PEV is being plugged for charging. Early adopters might not care that much for the cost either initially. They might end up charging during peak hours.

The first step is ensuring the transformers can handle the extra load. Utilities implementing AMI could benefit from transformer monitoring by totaling the meter data of customers being served by the transformer. While this is to be done at the system level in long run to identify the overloaded transformers and taken action. Immediate short term option would be to check the transformer loading against existing data and forecasting the load with inclusion of PEV charge station (depending on the level) in the areas where PEV charge station is being deployed or a customer is being put into PEV rate. This can help utilities to avoid any transformer overloading issue initially. Since this is PEV is new for the grid, utilities are very cautious about not getting into news for any wrong reasons.

There are solutions available for identifying the transformer loading system wide and plotting them on the GIS map. Smart integrator is one such solution that can be plugged in by utilities to help them with transformer load management beyond PEV.

CS week 35 has a workshop on EV readiness let us wait to see what we get to learn.

May 19, 2011

Meter Data Management System: What to look for

Majority of the utilities are currently focusing on setting up AMI infrastructure for meeting regulatory requirements, green power initiatives and other business benefits.
AMI meters are being rapidly deployed and data is being collected, but utilities did not really start realizing the benefits of collected data and other AMI capabilities to remotely perform transactions apart from just getting the monthly billing read. Initially billing might be interested in the data but gradually other groups with the organization would demand for the data. The key to successful AMI implementation is to leverage the value of meter data. The primary interface for any large scale AMI system is the Meter Data Management Systems (MDMS), and the MDMS forms an integral part of AMI.
Meter Data Management System (MDMS) is used as common repository for AMI meter data and its suite of applications are used for variety of analysis and help in realizing the business benefits by integrating with other utility systems. MDMs is also looked as single interface for all the utility system to communicate with AMI.

While evaluating for such an important system, the following have to be considered:

•MDM integration with utility applications should be vendor agnostic. MDM should manage the integration with AMI and when an new AMI system or technology is brought in the system needs to be integrated only with MDM

•Identifying the attributes to be maintained in MDM is critical. You will need to maintain some entities from CIS and need to be very cautious about what you want to maintain in MDM and define the system based on your business needs. People in the team should understand the expectation and not think of it as CIS replacement. As much as possible meter related information have to be maintained

•Performance of MDM is another critical aspect. You should have right expectations from the beginning on performance in terms of loading the data and cleansing the data.

•Reporting is critical feature. So much of data is being maintained to make good use of the data in other business application or process. It is very important to have flexibility in reporting data out of MDM.

•Identifying right business services (ex: Connect, Disconnect, On Request Read, Meter Program change, Billing Read Request, Demand Reset) that are needed

These are some of the basics that you need to be aware of. It is very important to do system appreciation and do the right requirements to meet your business needs.

May 16, 2011

Underrated Customer Service Benefits of AMI

In my previous life I sold AMI systems to a utilities.  After the one utility in particular had bought the system I asked the CEO why he needed the AMI system.  It was not obvious to me that he could save lots of money in meter reading as his territory was fairly dense and his cost of meter reading was not very high. This utility was a midsized utility.  He asked me to go with him to the lobby and he pointed out to whole bunch of people sitting in the lobby.  He said all these people clogging up my lobby have billing questions and they think we are cheating them because they don't understand cycle day billing no matter how many times we have explained them.  Sometimes they get the bills for 33/34 days and other times they get bills for 25/26 days and this difference can be huge depending upon the weather.  

He mentioned this hassle alone is big enough for him to justify AMI system which will not only reduce his customer service cost but more importantly improve his customer satisfaction.  In the next blogs, I will discuss many other customer service benefits.

May 9, 2011

Smarter Organization for Smart Grid

In my previous blogs I discussed about value realization from smart grid investments ( ) and technological and social relevance of Smart Grid ( ). Also my fellow bloggers have been discussing about some very important business and technology challenges and solutions. As Utility industry moves towards addressing these challenges, an underlying element that needs to be addressed is your internal organization and most importantly "people" (This is one part of change which is most important but is often given least priority while actually planning for it). If the internal change is not managed well then it may lead to confusion, anxiety, frustration, resistance, waste and delay, and these are sufficient enough reasons to derail any program. And in case of Smart Grids we are talking about disrupting the well-established processes and procedures over years; so it definitely warrants a structured approach for managing change.

If you have started your Smart Grid journey then you would have already experienced few of the following challenges (which are not related to Smart Grid technology) and if you are just starting then you should start thinking about these: 
  1. Is the internal organization tuned for such a mammoth changes?
  2. How to bring departments/business units closer to match up to technology convergence?
  3. How to make people smarter and more successful with the change?
  4. Have we set clear expectations with the employees?
  5. Are we providing adequate tools and skills to the employees?
  6. Do we have adequate rewards/consequences mechanisms?
  7. Are we communicating the right things at the right time with employees and customers?
  8. How will customers perceive these changes?
  9. And above all do we have managed plan to effect these changes? 
This list can go on and on but the moot point here is to ensure that internal and external changes coming with Smart Grid initiatives are recognized and addressed in a structured manner. But the question remains "How do we address these challenges?" Though there is no silver bullet solution to the problem but it can be addressed through a series of well-planned Organizational Change Management (OCM) interventions.  A full blown OCM exercise is needed to create the organization of the future (and it requires planning, patience and delicate handling) and following should be the key elements of a holistic OCM approach:
  • Change Strategy and Vision
  • Leadership
  • New Ways of Working
  • Job and Organization Design
  • Culture
  • Value Realization
You should define each of these in your own context and ensure that it's well executed through the life cycle of your Smart Grid journey. I would happy to discuss further with you in case you are trying to find answers to any one of the above problems. 

May 4, 2011

What is the profile of the "smart grid consumer"?

The end goal of smart grid is to assemble an intelligent infrastructure that allows both the utility and the consumer to make smarter energy decisions. The first phase of deployment mainly focused on the provisioning of advanced metering, with a more focused upside for the utility (meter reading savings, turn-on, turn-off, etc). As a result of many of the metering pilots, utilities have discovered that adoption by the consumer is crucial. That being said, how well do we know the "smart grid consumer"?

Continue reading "What is the profile of the "smart grid consumer"?" »

March 30, 2011

The Impact of the Economy on Smart Grid...and not the other way around

As part of my blog I intended to profile the economic growth as a result of our efforts to advance our utility infrastructure. Sitting in the front lines on smart grid projects, I theorized that US-based smart grid projects took off on the allocation of ARRA funds in 2009. As smart grid efforts and expenses grew and economic distress persisted, the rationale for these projects lost effectiveness. We then saw the reigning in of future projects and roadmapsfrom 5-10 year plans to a seamingly endless highway stretching 10-15 years.



Continue reading "The Impact of the Economy on Smart Grid...and not the other way around" »

March 18, 2011

GIS as an imperative for a smart Grid

Geographic Information System (GIS) serves two critical purposes beyond what an enterprise asset management (EAM) tool can provide. These two are: spatial location and network connectivity. Whereas EAM owns the physical characteristics of an asset, the needs of a Smart Grid can only be met when GIS and EAM sync together.

From an automation perspective, EMS, DMS, OMS or Substation SCADA can subscribe to the network connectivity built within a GIS. A single spatial data model could form the backbone for managing the operations of the entire grid. GIS typically would be the repository of the "as-built". Real time changes brought about by day-to-day operations shall remain within the smart systems meant for automation until they become permanent changes or as-built.

Implementing this backbone of information flow goes beyond the T&D operations into Customer Service (CS) and Power Procurement (PP). A customer service representative who receives a call from a customer on an individual outage can in real-time view the network issue that caused the outage on a map. Also hovering over the issue on the map the representative can view EAM data describing the work-order with status and expected time of completion.

PP can leverage the combination of GIS and EMS to find the capacity margins of each Transmission circuit for monthly, daily or hourly power scheduling. GIS will have the as-built capacity information for each transmission line and EMS would supplement this with the current load and available margins.

GIS can tie all protection devices - transducers, measuring devices, control circuitry and relays to their geographic location in a substation. Critical equipment drawings and inspection videos could be stored or hyperlinked against the asset representation on a map.

This list can go on, but the message that I'd like to convey is that GIS-EAM together become a complete repository of asset information and have a foundational role to play in building the smart grid information infrastructure.

The following picture was part of a paper-presentation we did at DistribuTECH conference in 2009. It visually depicts the value-impact of GIS across the utility value chain:


Next Generation Integration Architecture for Smarter Grids

This is one of the favorite topic all across the board. Each and every utility is brainstorming and each and every vendor is proposing next generation Integration Architecture.

Reason? Well the roadmap of smart grids begin with integration of heterogeneous applications, systems and blurring line between OT and IT applications and systems. Hence the obvious challenge is what should be the integration architecture to achieve the goal of reaching Smart Grid Vision 20XX (is it 2020 or 2030).

There are several reference architectures available in the market place and each one addresses some unique challenges, but they all go on tangent at some point of time depending on the objective.

I would like to share my thoughts and provide food for thoughts for discussion in this (and perhaps other industry) forum(s).

As per my experience and understanding it is premature to say what will be the next generation integration architecture, but we definitely can say what is required out of the next generation integration architecture. At least my background is not in Enterprise System Architecture hence I will focus more on the requirements rather than suggesting the integration architecure itself. But we at infosys are investing on the next generation integration architecture for smarter grids and I would like to present the thought process behind our next gen integration platform in this and future blogs.

Let's take a step back, and think what is really required here? Few general requirements to name:

1. Interoperability between IT and OT systems and subsystems within IT and OT world

2. Scalability

3. Performance

4. Security

Now are these not the same requirements exist in any integration problem? So what's different? The difference in the context of the Power Systems Domain is that the IT systems as well as OT systems are fragmented due to the fact that many IT systems were developed in-house, almost all of the OT systems have their own legacy. It is getting more complex with the fact that newer concepts and systems are being introduced both in IT as well as OT side of the world in phase-wise approach.

Very soon we will see newer systems with the objective of interoperability but won't be able to interoperate within themselves forget about the legacy systems. OK, some of the reader will say, "This is exactly what we are addressing in newer implementation", but is that 100% correct?

In order to complete current phase of the project on time, aren't we ignoring the interoperability between the integration systems being implemented in a parallel phase or next phase? The schedule and budget pressures have always been the enemy of the interoperability and homogeneous system implementation.

Let's come back to the objective of this blog, to list the properties or requirement of the next generation integration architecture.

  • The integration in smarter grids won't be just based on data exchanges but will have to be based on events that are flowing between the systems and subsystems. Hence the next generation integration architecture must be even centric, i.e. the Complex Event Processing is going to be the key component of the integration architecture.
  • The data coming from the field devices is no longer just the real-time data but also the data relevant to the enterprise systems, hence the integration architecture must support the differentiation of data and information integration based on the following time-line and usage:
    • Near Real-time
    • Real-time
    • Enterprise
  • The time critical data coming from field devices and systems will contain high volume transactional data that means the integration architecture should incorporate the data convergence, aggregation and disaggregation features.
  • Another aspect is the analytics (near real-time and real-time) requirements, hence the integration architecture should provide the data in such a way that it enables analytics to be built seamlessly.
  • The most important part is interoperability. Now this is critical because no matter how much efforts are put in interoperability, we are at least 5-7 years away from the plug and play kind of interoperability. And even that to be achieved the onus is on the integration architecture. Apart from providing support for all interoperability standard based protocols, in my opinion CIM is most important component. The integration architecture should have it's own CIM based data model so that as and when CIM enabled systems are implemented the integration becomes seamless.

Some of the aspects I did not touch in this blog, but I will write more about next generation integration architecture in next blog, hence would like to stop here for the comments, feedback and discussions on this very important topic.

March 12, 2011

Who is your GTO ?

In a recent editorial in the reputed Electric Energy Online (, Michael A. Marullo draws attention towards the fact that Smart Grid initiatives should broaden their base beyond Smart Metering and focus on larger issues. Hence the term for the initiaitves, he suggests, should be "Grid Transformation". Kudos to Michael, yet another very well written article!

 As the Utility industry marches forward with Grid Transformation (or Smart Grid ) initiatives, there is a growing realization that some of the traditional roles and business lines find themselves struggling to make the right decisions in a timely manner. I believe this is one of the many reasons why projects run slow and so many "pilot" projects are done and redone. The traditional organizational boundaries within Utilities are blurring and the roles are overlapping. The data, information and knowledge required to make some of the far-reaching decisions traverse the functional units of Generation, Power Supply, Transmission Distribution, and Customer Service. This is a transformational journey for Utilities as they embrace digital technology to modernize the power grid. The pressure to re-organize or re-align is quite visible. This applies to all Utilities - big or small, private or public, operating in regulated market or competing in a deregulated world.

 Is there, therefore, a need to create a horizontal role that focuses on taking accountability for these cross-unit decisions and providing executive sponsorship to the Grid Transformation programs?  Will it ensure efficiency in decision making if a horizontal cross-unit organization took charge of the integration and introduced new ideas, solutions and services to the traditional business units? More importantly, how do Utilities operationalize the creation of such a role and a team? The responsibilities of the Grid Transformation Officer (GTO) in a Utility could, at the minimum, include -

 1. Ensuring all stakeholders(internal and external) understand the changes introduced through the programs

2. Driving Cross unit collaboration and decision making

3. Defining key performance metrics for the Grid Transformation initiatives

4. Helping business lines define "next" practices and preserving "best" practices

5. Building a long term sustenance plan for the new processes and infrastructure

6. Sponsoring talent management and a partner strategy

While there is no one-size-fits-all for such a critical role, it will have to bring the ability to move faster.

So, who is your GTO ?



March 7, 2011

Power Quality & Voltage Regulation Not Included in AMI Business Cases

I have looked at many AMI business cases filed with the Regulators, but I have yet to see the savings from reduction of truck rollouts to check Power Quality and Voltage Regulations. The main reason given why it so is that until AMI is fully deployed and integrated with other systems, these benefits are still hard to quantify.

Generally a utility does not know about Power Quality (PQ) issues unless someone calls about equipment failure or flickering lights.  Then, they send a technician with Harmonic & Voltage Monitoring equipment to the site to monitor it for some time.  It takes time to collect data, analyze it and find a solution.    Many years ago, when I worked for GE as a design engineer, our Elevator Motors were failing in Miami's tallest Bank building and one can imagine the urgency of the situation.  I installed Dranetz's Power Monitoring equipment to find the problems.  It took us a month to find the problem but today we could have found the problem with a Three Phase AMI Meter and saved lots of time, money and inconvenience.

Today, many three phase meters are capable of capturing THD (Total Harmonic Distortion) and if installed they can send data when the meter sends data and or on demand.  However neither the Head End software provided by AMI vendors nor MDMs have features to accept the PQ data.  This beneficial feature can be added very easily.  When I worked for a company who was providing AMI, we used to discuss it, but we never had enough resources to add such advance functions and always settled for adding simple functions such as adding voltage monitoring and blinks, etc.

Voltage is an important function as a utility has to maintain it with in + 5% (126V to 114V).  Generally the AMI helps monitor the voltage and spot problems immediately.

Also, SAIDI, SAIFI, MAIFI, CAIFI type indices are calculated by collecting data from several collection points such as Substation (SCADA), OMS and Customer Service and is a very cumbersome process. This information is reported to the Regulators.  All of these benefits can be easily quantified and materialized with additional IT tools and Integration.   We will continue to discuss additional benefits in future blogs.


February 18, 2011

Why do utilities need EIM?


I have talked about Enterprise Information Management (EIM) in one on my prior posts. The need for EIM is increasingly becoming clear to many utilities and they are slowly starting enterprise wide initiatives to get this going. In this post, I will talk about an illustrative use case and the various components of EIM.

Continue reading "Why do utilities need EIM?" »

Smart Data: Making business sense out of AMI Data

Almost 2 years in to the Smart Grid journey that started with the first pillar of Smart Grids i.e. AMI now has reached a stage where Utilities now start to see ultra high volume transactional data flowing in from Smart Meters. Next challenge is what to do with this data. Of course traditional use of the meter data has been (and will still remain to be) revenue collection and billing purposes. But is that enough to justify 100s of millions of dollars of investment?

Of course there are many answers to this question and very valid one, but I think when I wear the shoe of a Utility Operations or Business Manager I will think and ask:

  • How make business sense out of this huge valume of data?
  • Where do I start with this data other than processing it in MDMS (Meter Data Management System)?
  • Is it enough to flush this data in to the Data warehouse?
  • What are the business benefits?

In my opinion the strength of this data is not in the shear volumn and capability to read get more frequent meter reads, but the inherent intelligence in this data. This inherent intelligence in the Smart Data (oops!! Data from Smart Meters) is due to the communication capabilities clubbed with GIS systems which is changing the way Utilities look at their network connctivity model because now their connectivity model includes each and every customer (with Smart Meter) in the distribution grid. And that is what I call the true intelligence in the Smart Data.

The information and actionable intelligence that can be extracted out of Smart Data and the way it can help Utilities in Planning and Network Operations is unprecedented. These smart meters are not only capable of providing meter reads over multiple channels but also can record alarms and events related to service and secondary side voltage, currents and harmonics. This way we can think of various use cases of this Smart Data (AMI Data provided by Smart Meters) that can significantly benefit the distribution network operations and planning.

We have identified following use cases of Smart Data in the area of Distribution Operaitons and Planning, and are builiding point solutions around these use cases:

Enterprise, Operational & System Planning

  • Energy Theft Detection
  • Distribution Grid Load Assessment
  • Tariff & Financial Planning

Engineering & Operations

  • Power Quality Monitoring & Analytics
  • Distribution Transformer Load Assessment
  • Voltage Monitoring
  • Load Profiling
  • Bus Load Analysis

Energy Efficiency

  • Demand Side Management
  • Price-sensitive Demand Response
  • Aggregate Demand Response
  • TOU
  • Peak Loss Evaluation

I would like to discuss two most important usage of Smart Data:

Power Quality & Voltage Monitoring

The results from the power quality & voltage monitoring at customer premise (provided by smart meters) can be aggregated at the distribution transformer level using the customer linked network data model and can be fed back to the DMS/SCADA applications and hence can serve as additional SCADA points, eliminating the need to install additional sensors in the field. The voltage monitoring can help in following areas of distribution operation:

  • Loss Analysis
  • Input to load forecasting models
  • Voltage and VAR Control
  • Transformer voltage regulation
  • Automatic feeder and capacitor bank switching
  • Power Quality Monitoring and Reporting

The benefits of power quality & voltage monitoring if used in conjunction with voltage control are as follows:

  • Reduction in losses
  • Improvement in operational efficiency

Another important use case is:


Distribution Transformer Loading Assessment


The objective is to perform the Load analysis and management.

AMI data together with connectivity model can give information related to transformer loading. Peak load analysis, what if analysis, etc can be performed if we have the connectivity model and then roll up the values to get transformer data.Winding losses  and core losses  for DT can be calculated using this method( core loss-Provided we have voltage information)

Distribution System Loss evaluations are very much dependent on the available data. Historically, data has been limited but now with AMI/DMS/SCADA we can Estimate peak demand losses with a basic engineering model. Apart from these this use case can help plan distribution circuits with high peneration of PHEVs because this use case will help utility to monitor the load right up to the distribution transformer level hence better load planning can be performed.

In the interest of not making this blog too big, I would like to provoke a thought here to my fellow readers that what is the real use of AMI data and how it can be used to create the business sense and yield the maximum business benefits.

Sooner or later these questions will be asked and will have to be answered.

I would appreciate your comments and feedback in this important topic.

February 4, 2011

Should "Analytics" be one of the core strategic systems in Utility Smart Grid initiatives?

As the utilities transition into the smart grid, one of the major changes the companies will experience is the availability of vast information with high degree of granularity. Many utilities are preparing to capture data from smart meters every 15 minutes - that requires something like  200 TB of storage, including disaster recovery factored in. When they move into 5 minutes intervals, that would become 800 TB - 1 minute would become 1.5 PB (peta byte)! If you include local sources of alternate energy such as solar or wind, the volume will further increase to 2 -3 times. On the other hand, it would allow the next generation smarter utility companies to do real-time optimization and drive predictive analytics to improve operational efficiencies, customer service, energy efficiency and better asset utilization.

Think about how the entire notion of customer engagement will change as utilities begin to learn more about consumer behavior - much like how mobile or credit card companies are able to slice and dice the customer data. Using predictive analysis, these companies will be able to figure out when the customer might potentially switch to another provider. In a deregulated market such as Texas, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and many other states that follow, the utility companies will face unlimited competition within the marketplace where the consumer is free to choose any electric provider - with the notion that more choice and more competition will lead to lower electricity monthly bill. Therefore, with understanding consumer behavior, better customer service will become an important goal that no utility company can ignore today. As the new smart meters are deployed, the meter data can be used to accurately predict - a meter that is likely to malfunction in 30 days, Power outage in next 1 hour or demand spike in 3 hours - things like these will bring in change the way the quality of customer service is provided.

"Analytic solutions" - are no longer a "nice to have" , IT enabled systems that are often done at the end of implementation. Given its significance in smart grid, utilities must think about "analytics" as one of the core strategic initiatives, a part of the IT infrastructure modernization and enterprise solution investments to better prepare for the smart grid transformation journey. Top 3 key implications that utilities need to think about are:

a. Information is in silos - Many utilities back office applications were built over several years and many are isolated from one another. As demand grows, some of these applications suffer from severe scalability and information redundancy issues.
b. Interoperability - challenge in information unification across the Grid network, distributed energy sources, service delivery, customer interaction and consumer energy usage
c. A robust information storage technology - The unprecedented volume of data and the expectation to do real time data analytics presents unique challenges to the storage technology.

February 2, 2011

Live Update Distributech 2011 Day 2

Wow!! another great day, lot's of activity. Many people stopping by and seeing Smart Integrator Demo. Matt Dhillon attended the session on IT for Smart Grids. Very good content.

Generating lot of interest in Infosys capabilities and Smart Grid solutions. So far had 5 demonstrations (since 10:30 AM) and each one of us impressed with the content and depth offered by the solutions.


January 29, 2011

Preparing for DistribuTECH 2011- Weekly Wrap-Up 2

As we put the last minute preparations for DistribuTECH, we would like to introduce you to our live blogger for DistribuTECH 2011.

Devendra Vishwakarma will keep you informed on the activities surrounding DistribuTECH, from informative sessions to conference discussions. Devendra has over 10 years of experience in Transmission and Distribution (T&D) automation product development and project engineering. He specializes in Smart Grid solutions, demand response, Distribution Management System (DMS), Outage Management System (OMS), and wholesale market operations.

Also, make sure to come by the Infosys booth, we have fantastic giveaways:

  • Get your conference passes stamped at our booth to win a 2011 Dodge Challenger in the conference-wide CAR GIVEAWAY! When your card has been stamped at all participating booths, it will be entered into a drawing for the car on the last day. 
  • Pick up a Starbucks vouchers (worth a free coffee only in the convention center)

See you at DistribuTECH 2011!

January 20, 2011

Preparing for Distributech 2011-Weekly Wrap-up

Welcome back to the Smart Utilities Blog! As Infosys prepares for DistribuTECH 2011, we will continue to showcase our thoughts, opinions and industry insights as they relate to Smart Grid, the Transmission and Distribution ecosystem and the utilities industry as a whole. I will be serving as a the community moderator up to the February 1 start date for Distributech and then our team of live bloggers will take over.

At DistribuTECH, Infosys will showcase our diverse portfolio of solutions for Smart Grid, including Infosys Smart Integrator, Infosys Demand Side Management and Infosys Smart Customer Portal. Follow the links to get additional information and drop by our booth to see the demo first hand.

Weekly Wrap-up:
Smart Grid Security:Tarun discussed the concept that we are at a crossroad for Smart Grid. We will be highlighting our security experience as well our growing network of security partnerships at our booth.

Price Sensitive Residential Demand Response: In Devendra's blog on Price Senstitivity of Demand Respons he illustrates the hurdles in implementation of demand respond in the residential environment. Infosys has signficant experience in orchestrating demand response programs and can showcase how both Infosys Smart Customer Portal and Infosys Smart Integrator allow utilities to roll our faster, manage more effficiently and maximum their return on investment with demand response programs.

Keep following our blogs throughout the week as our community of subject matter experts post thoughts and opinions that will most certainly be driving Distributech 2011.

Ben Edelbrock

January 17, 2011

Smart Grid Security - Is it a myth or a reality?

It is really amazing to see how sensitive we have suddenly become to the subject of "Grid Security". As I write this blog, somebody, somewhere is busy strategizing the Security plan or defining the Security standard. There are countless forums, seminars and meetings happening everyday on a single agenda i.e. how to make the Grid more secured.

Continue reading "Smart Grid Security - Is it a myth or a reality?" »

January 12, 2011

Price Sensitive Residential Demand Response : Reality check

Demand Response is termed as one of the killer application in Smart Grid roadmaps. The hope is that with penetration of smart appliances, HAN and Smart meters the customers will start participating in the grid operations by dynamically adjusting their pattern of energy usage based on the grid conditions. One of the argument is that residential customers will receive real-time price signal and will bid in to the price sensitive demand response programs. But how much of that is going to be reality. I would say it is a long shot. The price sensitive demand response in the residential customer segment may take a while before it becomes reality. There are several roadblocks, to name few:

  • With incresed use of energy efficient appliances the consumption will go down and the amount of incentive to participate in the demand response programs may not be lucrative to residential customers.
  • In order to make price sensitive demand response lucrative to the residential customers, there needs to be change in the tariff structure which will have to follow the real-time energy prices in order to make an positive impact on the grid operations.
  • The network infrastructure needs to support the communication of the price and DR signals to thousands of residential customers (customers who are enrolled in to the DR programs), which may overlaod the grid communications networks. One of the option talked about is the AMI communication network but more and more AMI networks becoming operational the industry is seeing actual problems with the already stressed out AMI communication infrastructure. DR being the mission critical application the network latency can not be ignored.
  • Secuirty is another biggest issue with price sensitive residential demand response programs because unline commercial and industrial DR customers who can afford to invest in the secure Building Energy management systems, expecting residential customers to have same level of awareness and security in place is not fair.

Then there are technical challenges in terms of real-time DR load monitoring and the maturity of protocols for the price sensitive demand response which can cater to the bandwidth needs for the residential DR. Network latency I already mentioned. Then there will be optimization problems with respect to dynamic load behaviour where the entire supply chain from generation to transmission to distribution to customer participation will have to be optimized.


In conclusion I would like to say that the concept is good and very promising but it will take a while before we start seeing price senstive demand response in reality in the residential customer segment.

January 6, 2011

Smart Grid : Are your customers ready?

Smart Grid is a major transformation where utilities are revamping infrastructure, bringing automation and increasing reliability. This transformation is leading towards redefinition of business processes to achieve maximum operational benefits which have direct or indirect impact to the customers.

Continue reading "Smart Grid : Are your customers ready?" »

December 31, 2010

Infosys- Sponsoring and Live Blogging from DistribuTECH 2011

We are excited to announce that we are sponsoring DistribuTECH 2011, a leading Smart Grid conference focused on the emerging areas within Smart Grid as well as T&D system operation and reliability and water utility technology. DistribuTECH which will be held held in San Diego, CA from February 1-3.

Distributech.jpgOver the next month and this new year our entire team of bloggers will focus on the far reaching effects of Smart Grid as well as our views on the future of automation and control of distribution systems as we approach DistribuTECH 2011.

We will blog around the key focal points of Smart Grid consulting, continuous road-mapping, the evolution of systems integration and revolutionary products and services that further enable Smart Grid.

Also if you are not able to attend the conference or cannot make your way to our booth, you can stay up to date with live updates and blogs from the conference.

Stay tuned for an exciting month of thought provoking blogs. Happy New Years to you and yours from the Infosys Smart Utilities blog team!

December 14, 2010

Information Management

Today we will talk about information management - a much required capability that utilities need to carefully evaluate as they go through Smart Grid deployment.

What is Information Management? Simply put information management is not just about technology but is about managing and leveraging information.

Continue reading "Information Management" »

December 2, 2010

The Importance of Vision During Implementation

The Smart Grid community has laid out the importance of creating a roadmap from the onset of Smart Grid enabling technologies. The majority of utilities, in turn, have sat down and shaped their vision of tomorrow's Smart enterprise. As the focus shifts from planning to project execution, there are many common pitfalls. The vision has now been laid out in a list of discrete, granular projects. The challenge is then to create a truly integrated Smart Grid from seemingly separate projects while ensuring the Smart Grid vision continues to evolve.  

In most utilities the Smart Grid project team has been assembled from a variety of line of business IT stakeholders, business stakeholders and core project managers. These individuals are key to the successful implementation of a component of the overall vision. However, if the utility company allows for the independent execution of the project there could be a significant impact on the realization of the overall roadmap. Unfortunately, one of the greatest issues during the execution of a transformational project is the creation of Smart Grid project myopia.

The project team will execute against the defined goals of the individual project but will lack the vision to ensure the project will seamlessly integrate with the Smart Grid roadmap. When carrying out this particular project it is important to have a distinct and separate team that works in an advisory and oversight role to ensure that the granular aspects of the project meet the evolving needs of the corporation's Smart Grid landscape. This oversight role ensures a truly integrated Smart Grid and does not sacrifice vision for project execution.

The project team is incentivized on the successful completion of the project but this is limited to that individual project. There are tough decisions that need to be made during the project that can limit the scope of the project but also limit the scope of the Smart Grid vision. These decisions may cut the cost of today's Smart Grid plan at the expense of a technology landscape that will not evolve with current industry trends. Although the cost of execution may be greater today, these tough decisions can limit the amount of rework required to integrate with future Smart Grid components. With the oversight of a separate Smart Grid vision team each project will be executed with respect to an evolving landscape and savings can be realized through a truly integrated Smart Grid technology landscape.

November 29, 2010

The Smart Customer Experience Mandate

Articulating the Smart Grid Value Proposition for Energy Consumers

Consumer Concerns about Smart Grid Technologies

In some parts of the U.S. energy consumers are pushing back on utilities' planned or actual rollout of Smart Meters for residential and small commercial customers (i.e. energy consumers). Consumers in northern California complained earlier this year about meter accuracy and high bills after PG&E installed Smart Meters in portions of its service territory. PG&E and the California Public Utility Commission had to hire an expensive consultant to verify PG&E's Smart Meter accuracy and the soundness of its billing practices in order to address consumer complaints and to restore (at least partially) consumer confidence in its Smart grid investments.

Continue reading "The Smart Customer Experience Mandate" »

November 26, 2010

Smart Grid - is it really relevant in India?


Continue reading "Smart Grid - is it really relevant in India?" »

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


Continue reading "What does Smart Grid mean to an end consumer" »

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.

Continue reading "Smart Grid: Is it a technology or a social issue?" »