Distribution optimisation with digital transformation

distribution, grid

By Jeff Wright, Vice President, Distribution, GE Power

Digital transformation is accelerating the journey to clean, reliable, affordable electricity, delivering improved distribution with scalable, performant distribution apps.

The energy value chain is becoming more complex as the global need for clean, reliable and affordable electricity continues to grow. After all, electricity is the cornerstone to just about everything billions of people worldwide do daily. For distribution operators to succeed in today’s changing environment, the ability to adapt and optimise operations at an ever-increasing rate is essential. The forward-thinking utility recognises distribution optimisation as a critical enabler of next-generation distribution grids, which are maximally efficient, reliable, and ultimately, sustainable.

Current challenges

Distribution operators face an ongoing increase in grid complexity coupled with rising uncertainty due to changing business and regulatory models. To protect business and improve results, utilities must:

  • Protect and increase current reliability levels
  • Decrease outage response times
  • Improve power quality
  • Manage a rapidly changing energy mix
  • Integrate the growing volume of distributed generation (DG) and distributed energy resources (DERs) safely and securely
  • Provide resiliency to natural disasters and perform and scale during blue or black sky scenarios.

As the volume of smart sensors and meters deployed on grid increase by multiple orders of magnitude, so does the volume and speed of the data generated by the grid. This presents a significant challenge for distribution operators to consume, understand, and act upon—overall power producers and utilities are analysing only about three to six per cent of their available data.

Without optimising operational processes and equipment functionality, or taking advantage of software algorithms delivering greater automation and control, utilities are missing opportunities to better connect and orchestrate their distribution grids.

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Powering improved optimisation with digital energy software

Distribution power analysis is the engine behind distribution optimisation. Effective distribution power analysis calculates the operating state of the entire distribution network, filling in gaps in telemetry data visibility without operator intervention, and makes results available to view in both current and simulated network states. It delivers enhanced situational awareness for the distribution network, and provides not only visual information to the operators, but also the underlying data for many of the advisory and optimization features of an Advanced Distribution Management Solution (ADMS).

Several distribution management applications can accelerate the utility’s journey to network-level optimisation:

  • Distributed Power Flow (DPF): Enables users to locate and calculate complex voltages at all nodes across the distribution network as well as the power flow through all feeder segments. Customers around the world have been able to generate estimated solutions very closely matched with SCADA measurements, some calling it “pseudo telemetry.”
  • Fault Location, Isolation & Service Restoration (FLISR): Locates outage and recommends remediation or automatically sends sequence of switching actions to isolate the fault and restore power. During a single event, one FLISR module implementation restored 2377 customers in 56 seconds.
  • Integrated Volt-Var Control (IVVC): Harnesses reactive power resources for improved voltage profiles, demand and loss reduction. Throughout a single year one IVVC module implementation delivered a MWh reduction of approximately 130,000, saving the utility more than US $7 million.

Utilities are seeing positive outcomes. Some highlights:

  • Up to 30 per cent additional reduction in SAIFI over scripted automation programs
  • Up to 33 per cent reduction in SAIDI attributed to having a single ADMS in place (combining the DMS and OMS)
  • Up to 3 per cent reduction in voltage for greater network efficiency
  • Up to 30 per cent increase in renewable exports onto the grid

Moving further forward with grid modelling

Ultimately, increased grid digitisation presents several opportunities operators can leverage via an ADMS. The network level optimisation the ADMS seeks to enable is also foundational to the grid modeling that can move utility modernisation even further forward.

Unsynchronized network models across multiple systems mean more costs — data entry, maintenance to fix bad data, waiting for timely data — as well as negative impacts on operational performance, and often a lag in deploying new technologies. As utilities extend automation throughout their network, integration with an accurate and up-to-date network model is essential.

With an ADMS as the foundation for distribution optimisation, either in advisory or closed-loop mode (automation), utilities can model the network at all voltage levels and understand the impact of any connected DERs. This type of single, shared and up-to-date network modeling of all the utility’s real-world assets, including an accurate representation of current state and connectivity, is critical.

A single network model allows the ADMS to reduce data synchronisation issues and can increase outage management efficiency, improve workflow, and provide an integrated view of the distribution gird from which to plan, design, build, commission, operate, monitor, maintain, and refurbish. Network-level transparency offers utilities the confidence needed to move to closed-loop control, which can ultimately lead to an autonomous grid.

Key takeaway

Electric grids around the world must transform to perform and excel with increasing volumes of DER, new technology deployment trends, environmental concerns, weather patterns, regulatory requirements and changing consumer needs and engagement models.

Related article: Inaccurate short-term forecasts cost renewables $5m