Talking with Jay Stinson, Vice President at Intergraph Corporation. Here, Jay discusses the intelligent power grid, or ‘SmartGrid’, and how the integration of applications comprising SmartGrid can address issues facing utilities today.
NGP&E. You’ve been in the utility and geospatial industry for 25 years and witnessed regulation, deregulation, mergers and acquisitions, technology advancements and all sorts of other changes the industry has experienced all around the world. In your view, what is the current challenge and/or trend facing the power distribution industry?
JS. Utilities are facing many of the same challenges they have faced for years, but these challenges are becoming much more acute in this day of rising costs, aging infrastructure, and security threats. Like most industries, utilities have to do more with less. Reliability remains one of the most pressing issues, along with improved customer service, shareholder return for IOUs, and rising power costs. In a nutshell, how does a utility increase reliability, keep rates reasonable, and remain profitable with significantly fewer resources and significantly higher costs – all in an environment of higher demand?
NGP&E. That sounds like a fairly complex problem reaching across several issues. What can a utility do to begin addressing these issues?
JS. It certainly is complex, but from a technology standpoint, there are solutions out there that can be leveraged in better ways to improve a utility’s efficiency. SmartGrid is much more than just the new buzzword in the utility industry – in my view it is the direction that all utilities need to begin moving, and involves integrating key technologies, some of which many utilities already have.
NGP&E. Can you explain your view of what SmartGrid actually is?
JS. SmartGrid, which is sometimes called the intelligent grid or intelligent infrastructure, grew out of the Department of Energy’s Modern Grid Initiative – a call to modernize the grid system in the United States following the Northeast blackout a few years ago. It refers to integrating communications networks with the transmission and distribution power grid to create an electricity communications superhighway capable of monitoring its own health and perform ‘self-healing’, as well as more efficient trouble notification. SmartGrid software systems integrate data, equipment and associated process changes brought about by existing investments in advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), broadband over powerline (BPL) and distribution automation (DA). Having said that, much of what is currently being discussed about SmartGrid in the media concerns the vast interconnecting transmission lines across large regions – but the IOUs, cooperative and municipal utilities operating local transmission and distribution lines are a key part of achieving the goals of grid modernization and could benefit significantly.
NGP&E. Conceptually, SmartGrid sounds like it delivers on improving reliability. Can you be more specific about the recongnizable benefits on a day-to-day basis for a utility?
JS. There are numerous advantages. Power outages have consequences all around – decreased revenue and even fines to the utility, customer dissatisfaction and other disruptions to commerce that result in financial losses. Obviously, alleviating revenue loss is a huge benefit. Integrating the right technology – for instance having one field platform for all mobile work and a single web portal for access to the system – reduces training expense, integration costs and overall cost of ownership. In fact we have case studies that show how automating the collection of information from the field and integrating it with the back office systems improved the revenue stream. Moreover, having a single ‘command and control’ environment for the system operators that presents a unified view of outages, load factors, crews and customer communications also provides significant savings in personnel and technology. From a technical and logistical standpoint, the combined technologies of SmartGrid help balance and optimize the load based on demand, and can prevent a utility from over-building or under-building the network.
NGP&E. Given that some of the SmartGrid components are actually in the field on the distribution system, can it help restoration efforts in a significant storm in which there is considerable damage to the infrastructure?
JS. SmartGrid can enhance the damage assessment effort that takes place after a major storm. In the past, utilities would send out droves of personnel to collect information that would help them paint a picture of the extent of damage to the distribution system. Once all of the data was collected, it was brought back to the office, either digitally or in manual format, and analyzed in order to make strategic decisions on how to direct storm restoration efforts. Sometimes by that point the utility was already well into the actual restoration on an ad-hoc basis. With SmartGrid, utilities use tools such as smart meters to determine the precise extent of outages based on meter response, and this helps confirm the prediction logic of the outage management system. The use of helicopters are further modernizing this process by automatically recording and verifying source voltage to the smart meters during flyovers. Utilties also collect data using rugged laptops and wireless connectivity to submit and analyze this data in real-time, as opposed to turning in the paperwork all at once upon returning from the field. SmartGrid can reduce the time it takes to assess the damage, get the crews to the hardest hit areas first, and ultimately restore power quicker.
NGP&E. Is the investment in SmartGrid realistic, given the tight budgets at utilities today?
JS. As with any large technology implementation, utilities can use a phased approach to SmartGrid, or implement a more limited system. A SmartGrid can be as simple as integrating a GIS, outage management system (OMS) and a SCADA system or some advanced metering, or it can be much more complex. Some utilities already have many of the technological components, so the best approach in those cases would be to design the proper integration of them to maximize the investment.
NGP&E. Many utilities already have GIS, or at the very least a computer-aided design (CAD) system. So purchasing an OMS and SCADA seems like it would quickly bring a utility into the SmartGrid realm relatively quickly…
JS. Well, yes and no. Certainly a utility can implement meters and the automatic communication to monitor (and in some cases automatically correct) the network. Integrating OMS with the GIS addresses trouble call and restoration in a more automated fashion. However, having the details of the facility infrastructure can enhance the utility’s ability to do so much more in terms of decision-making on maintenance and repair, resource allocation and host of other applications. It is important that the GIS is designed to manage the complex networks comprising a utility infrastructure and is based on open architecture to allow easier and less expensive integration with other components of the system. There are only a few GIS on the market able to do that – even some of the more popular GIS could not sufficiently support key applications such as electric load flow, workforce management or intelligent power adjustments that are dependent on analyzing network connectivity. Even fewer GIS have the enhanced ability to scale to the needs of a larger utility, as well.
NGP&E. We have talked about SmartGrid from a purely economic electrical operations point of view, what about systems security and resiliency? Does SmartGrid encompass physical and cyber security as well?
JS. With reliability of service and economic operation being the key drivers behind SmartGrid, it’s obvious that in today’s world, utilities are being called to respond to all types of emergencies and hazards while providing uninterrupted or rapidly restored electrical service. Unfortunately some of these hazards we face include acts of terrorism. For that reason, emergency preparedness and service resiliency is becoming a greater focus for operations. The centralized ‘control room’ concept that is so key to our view of SmartGrid also provides a centralized plant security platform. While it has been common in many metropolitan utilities to have substation physical entry alarms provide alerts in the system operations control room, SmartGrid allows us to go much further and to integrate a full array of physical access, CCTV, wireless fences and other security monitoring devices as part of one integrated system. The physical security of the transmission and distribution system can be monitored in parallel with the electrical operations to provide a much-improved level of situation awareness and operational readiness as part of a completed integrated system.
NGP&E. We have focused only on the electric grid, but does the SmartGrid concept apply to gas utilities and communications utilities as well, and if so, in what way?
JS. Many of the SmartGrid concepts apply to any geographically dispersed network where routine and emergency operations require remote monitoring and response. Gas distribution as well as communications networks can all benefit from the same self-healing grid automation concepts. Similarly, both could benefit from the centralized control room concepts in oversight of operations and integrated security to improve situational awareness and readiness in today’s uncertain world. Just as SmartGrid is beginning to take hold with electrical utilities, we anticipate a growing interest with other network operators who face similar challenges and are not willing to accept the status quo.
NGP&E. Intergraph does not actually provide some of the components – particularly meters and some of the communications systems – that comprise SmartGrid. Why would a utility rely on your SmartGrid vision to move forward?
JS. Oncor Electric Delivery, a subsidiary of TXU Corp., has selected a joint solution from Siemens Power Transmission & Distribution, Inc. and Intergraph to integrate its outage, mobile workforce and distribution management systems. Siemens provides much of the sensing hardware needed, while our software receives the information and provides analysis, integration and restoration applications. This is a more comprehensive system than any other utility has implemented with any other vendors in North America. Intergraph’s technologies are key in pulling together the data and centralizing the monitoring, control, restoration and other operations for the transmission and distribution system. We also provide robust OMS and mobile workforce management systems that are key to quick restoration. Other technologies in our company are becoming integral to the most effective SmartGrids, such as our surveillance and alarm security products. Ultimately, Intergraph knows utilities and how to maximize the geospatial component of managing the infrastructure.
Jay Stinson is Vice President at Intergraph Corporation and the General Manager of Intergraph’s Global Utilities and Communications Division.