Innovative technology can increase grid reliability for utilities—which is good news for everyone

Solar panels and wind turbines against sunset (innovative technologies)

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Even a short power outage can cause chaos for those affected by it. Residents are plunged into darkness, businesses lose access to data, and manufacturers can have their production lines shut down. The productivity and financial costs can be significant. The causes of power outages are varied and complicated, however, in today’s market there are innovative technologies that can help electric utilities maintain grid resiliency.

What causes power outages?

Broadly speaking there are two main types of power outages. They are:

  • Unplanned outages. These are the most common types of outages and can happen for many reasons, including equipment failure, human error, and severe weather conditions such as flooding and bushfires. No matter the cause, when these outages occur, widespread damage is inflicted on the grid, commonly affecting large geographical areas.
  • Planned outages. Planned outages are necessary for tasks like maintenance, system upgrades, or replacing old or damaged equipment.

Falling under the category of unplanned outages are disturbances that are caused by fluctuations in the grid. These are becoming more common as we integrate distributed energy resources (DER) like wind and solar into the network. This change is key to decarbonisation, but it does present some complications for electrical distribution systems. These challenges include:

  • Difficulty in accurately forecasting variable DER
  • A decrease in reliability and power quality if DER are not properly managed
  • Controlling and balancing peak demand with the growing adoption of electric vehicles (EV)
  • Balancing the load using additional flexibility and demand response solutions
  • Managing the growing complexity of the grid, as well as increases in electricity consumption.

As a result, unplanned outages are becoming more frequent, creating a need for electric utilities to have visibility and control over DERs and the grid.

Overcoming the challenges of a complex energy network

To manage the disruption of DERs, Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure DERMS can help centralise management and control. With grid constraint optimisation at its core, EcoStruxure DERMS is a solution that allows utilities to orchestrate distributed generation and delivery of electricity while improving safety, reliability, and quality. Through EcoStruxure DERMS, optimised dispatch of DER resources can be leveraged to resolve immediate issues and prevent future grid constraint violations.

Upgrading the grid can be expensive but the need to strengthen the network is necessary, especially in the current new energy landscape. To help electric utilities defer capital investments while building grid resiliency, EcoStruxure DERMS enables the analysis of non-wired grid reinforcement alternatives with various planning scenarios including technical and economic feasibility. By having the capability to model all DER types and smart inverter autonomous functions, EcoStruxure DERMS allow electric utilities to analyse the impact of DERs in various loads and weather conditions, helping to maintain grid flexibility and reliability.  

In the case that an outage does occur, electric utilities can use the FLISR (fault location, isolation, and service restoration) methodology to bring power back online as quickly as possible. Previously, electric utilities were dependent on customers for fault detection and localisation, however, by using improved FLISR processes built on connected technology, electric utilities can significantly reduce the time needed to locate outages. With Advanced Distribution Management systems’ (ADMS) FLISR functionalities, faults can be immediately identified and troubleshooted to drastically reduce outage duration and the number of impacted customers.

Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure ADMS provides the most comprehensive network management solution for grid providers. ADMS provides monitoring, analysis, control, optimisation, planning, and training tools that all function on a common representation of the entire electrical distribution network. The system minimises the impact of downtime by automatically isolating faults from the rest of the power system and reduces the duration of outages. It then reconfigures the system to quickly re-energise the grid in the shortest time possible, bypassing the area of the fault and supplying power to the de-energised parts of the distribution network.

By merging distribution management (DMS), outage management (OMS), and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems into one unified solution with more than 50 advanced functions, EcoStruxure ADMS can maximise the benefits made possible from a growing foundation of intelligent grid devices (such as smart RMU Easergy T300), distributed renewable energy and advanced metering. Additional ADMS functionalities like OMS (outage management system) and CM (crew management) optimise resource mobilisation to rapidly and accurately direct maintenance crews to the outage location to repair and restore power.

A great example of EcoStruxure ADMS in action can be seen at SA Power Networks, where majority of their energy network relies on overhead powerlines. The widespread geographic size of their network, and the lack of SCADA coverage, meant that locating faults was time consuming and challenging. With EcoStruxure ADMS now in place, if an outage occurs, they can restore power to most of their customers on a feeder in less than one minute. The system also provides them with real-time control and optimisation, as well as improved operational planning capabilities and increased training opportunities with simulation of real-life scenarios.

The use of distributed energy resources (DERs) is putting additional stress on the power grid and a decentralised grid makes network management more complex. This means that more than ever, electric utilities must prioritise power reliability and restoration using “improved” FLISR processes and advanced technologies including Schneider Electric’s Ecostruxure DERMS and ADMS.

For more information on digital grid solutions including EcoStruxure DERMS and ADMS, please visit se.com/au/digital-grid. Alternatively, to learn more about FLISR methodology, please download our FREE e-guide.

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