Five Key Topics About Grid Operations Efficiency You Can Explore at GridFWD 2018

If you’re pursuing modernizing to make grid operations more efficient, you’ll be in good (and expert) company at GridFWD 2018. The Efficient Grid Operations track on Wednesday, October 11 comprises four expert panels on using metering data, new uses for voltage management, better grid monitoring and optimizing locational value of assets. The track runs concurrently with other tracks focusing on grid resiliency and policy & markets. Nowhere else can you get such a focused look at grid modernization topics for energy professionals in the Pacific Northwest.

John Gibson

John Gibson, Avista Corp.

As host and organizer of GridFWD, Smart Grid Northwest has collaborated with the team preparing the Efficient Grid Operations track. John Gibson, Chief R&D Engineer at Avista Corporation, is the track lead, leveraging over 22 years of utility experience in distribution planning, design and operations. He is joined in the process by these session leaders: Mischa Steiner, CEO of Awesense; Ronnie Sandoval, Director of Grid Modernization at EDF; and Robin Maslowski, Associate Director at Navigant.

Terry Oliver, Smart Grid Northwest

Terry Oliver, Smart Grid Northwest

While the track presentations are still in development, a number of topics have arisen in planning sessions with the above team and Smart Grid Northwest ambassador Terry Oliver, the former Chief Technology Innovation Officer at BPA. Below we report on five key topics on top of the minds of Northwest energy companies and professionals concerned with efficient grid operations.

  1. AMI data should be processed close to the edge

With advanced meters, utilities are now collecting massive quantities of energy consumption information. Does that mean an evolution to massive data farms and enterprise-level analytics programs? And by the time the information is available to an analytic tool, has the utility lost the opportunity to proactively fix a problem or anticipate what needs to happen next?

The prevailing opinion is to do just the opposite: to be able to make decisions as close to the edge as possible.  That’s one of the informative conversations you can expect in the first session, “Getting Deep Value with Advanced Metering Data Sets.”

In many new AMI deployments, there is a localized processing capability that can compile data and make decisions out at the edge, and then convey the information that’s necessary back to the enterprise environment. This concept of “edge analytics” can help the grid make decisions more quickly and not being dependent upon the latency or capability of the communication systems.

One of the principle challenges to this scenario is interoperability: different organizations provide distinct capabilities at locations where you need to make the decisions, and they have to be able to transfer that data and share those capabilities across the whole system from edge to enterprise. The industry needs an interoperable protocol, framework or platform that supports best-of-breed solutions and facilitates interoperability to ensure scalability.

Interoperability means the seamless, end-to-end connectivity of hardware and software from the customers’ appliances all the way through the T&D system to the power source, enhancing the coordination of energy flows with real-time flows of information and analysis.”- Gridwise Architecture Council

  1. We may need to look outside the industry for a solution to interoperability

To find this model, innovators may have to look outside of the energy sector. Many industries pursue an open source technologies and the open source movement. The open source model supports this idea of third party services can connect and interoperate across the open source platform. Amazon web services and the Microsoft Azure environment demonstrate how to drive towards a more complete, open source, interoperable framework. The energy industry needs to facilitate movement forward in order for the vendors in the energy sector to adopt this model.

This will help energy providers and utilities answer the increasing number of challenges associated with the deployment of distributed energy resources and microgrid technologies. For example, a meter might be able to determine which transformer it’s associated with and what set of meters are associated with that transformer. When the meter senses a problem, it may apply imbedded logic to determine if the transformer is the source of the problem. Also, if secondary sources are available they may be informed by the embedded systems to automatically restore isolated segments. The dispatcher enterprise systems can leverage the distributed embedded systems to provide actionable information to the dispatcher.

For example, an outage management system will be required to blend multiple levels of technology platforms to address the business need of outage response. A wide variety of technologies support outage management including AMI, micro-grids, distribution management systems and crew dispatch systems.

  1. Voltage management extends beyond distribution

Efficient Grid Ops

In the second session, “Voltage Management: Quick Wins for System Efficiency”, GridFWD 2018 will explore the evolution of voltage management into a broader tool for system efficiency. Traditionally, utilities looked at lowering the voltage as a way to reduce the load and postpone investments in additional generational assets. Without AMI, utilities are constrained to lowering voltage on feeder trunks based on available measurement. Typically, the voltage on the secondary side of the transformer is assumed based on engineering analysis.

With the deployment of AMI networks, utilities will be able to determine endpoint voltage and how much they could actually lower our feeder trunk system to capture added savings. Yet voltage is a very dynamic property, and consequently some voltage may vary significantly throughout the day. The utility then needs to determine how to take this information across hundreds of thousand customers and multiple distribution system nodes, and convey that up to a dispatcher in a meaningful way.

  1. Make broader use of the data already captured across the grid

Endpoint data is not the only data that matters to improving grid operational efficiency. There is also the data “locked up” in the substations, not accessible without a truck roll. Utilities may face organizational challenges in that integration, protection and substation design activities are often siloed. Each has specific business obligations in regards to building a safe and reliable infrastructure, so they might miss the broader picture in regards to something as abstract as situational awareness.

For example, the distribution system operation center understands safety procedures, the network configuration, the different devices and how they can be operated. Then there’s information about asset maintenance, information that could help with the preventative maintenance type programs around asset life, life cycle cost and grid modernization. As utilities start to see more distributed energy resources being deployed, there are different types of data streams that are associated with their economic value and how they participate in optimizing the grid, instead of leaning on the grid.


The third session in this track, “Better Distribution System Monitoring And Sensors For Better Analytics” will explore how to tie all of these elements into a relevant framework that helps with actionable information. Typical design, build, construct and operate processes may be embedded within 50 year old processes. Thinking about them in the broader and different contexts can be challenging, in part simply to get the right people in the room to have that discussion.

  1. Expand the locational value of grid modernization.

Some utilities are evaluating the capabilities of their system to absorb more variable resources at the edge, and then basically drawing a line and saying, “Well that’s the only place you can put these things, because that’s the only place that I can handle it.” How do these resources get coordinated, so that we don’t experience the local version of the California duck curve? That’s just some of what we’ll discuss in the fourth session, “Optimizing Locational Value Of Distribution System Modernization.”

Utilities need to consider how to change the value proposition to recognize different classes of ratepayer who actually might be willing and able and need to pay different, or receive different kind of service and benefits. Beyond simply reliable electricity, is there more that utilities can offer, and should be able to offer, that advances both the distributed energy resource agenda, and reliability, and utility profitability?

The regulatory compact essentially says that utilities essentially serve everyone in the service territory, with a fair cost to everyone. Consumers pay the same cost whether they’re in a remote valley or right next to a substation. Utilities should be able to develop value propostions that could help people make decisions that are both grid positive and that benefit their own economic situation while providing them the opportunity to make choices that will be clean or support other personal beliefs.

A whole new suite of generation technologies, such as photovoltaics with smart inverters, not only interact with the grid but have the capability to actively support grid operations. Energy storage devices are coming down in price. These set the stage for a new conversation about fairness, efficiency and flexibility. These are opportunities to reshape the electric utility business model in a way that creates incentives for people to have the autonomy and choices that they want, and also make decisions based on outcomes helpful versus to the grid and others on the system.

GridFWD 2018

For more information about the Efficient Grid Operations track at GridFWD, as well as all the tracks, speakers and topics, go to Smart Grid Northwest is grateful for the assistance of John Gibson and Terry Oliver in preparing this article.