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From Today's Distribution System to Tomorrow's Smart Distribution

Emerging smart grid technologies are accelerating the transformation of the distribution system into the smart distribution system of the future. New operating techniques and design practices will be developed to continue improving the reliability of the distribution system. Engineers will develop tools and applications to be integrated with today's technologies so as to ensure the resilience of the distribution system and to achieve a self-healing grid.

The growing sophistication of IT and computer technologies, along with their decreasing costs of deployment, are presenting power engineering designers with many new opportunities to give electric delivery systems much greater intelligence. However, the definition of what has come to be known as the smart grid varies significantly, depending on contexts and use. Some existing systems are by no means dumb.

Sophisticated methods to improve efficiency and reduce operating costs are well entrenched in generation and transmission systems. Some techniques, such as high-speed protection, remote control and monitoring, and automatic restoration, could not be justified for deployment in distribution. But some forms of intelligence already exist even there; for example, reclosers once activated hydraulically came to be electronically and nowadays digitally controlled. Many of the modern reclosers have some wave shape monitoring capabilities to be used in some smart distribution applications.

Most recently, many distribution systems in Europe, Asia and the Americas have adopted Advanced Metering Infrastructure. AMI systems typically anticipate integration of intermittent energy sources like wind and solar energy at medium and low voltage buses, as well as premises-based demand- response programs, whether by means of direct control or through time of day tariffs. AMI has been receiving so much attention, indeed, that some in the industry are coming to consider it as virtually synonymous with the smart grid. That is very selective and restrictive, considering that the smart grid encompasses much more than a single technology and that intelligent applications are available at all levels of the energy delivery chain.

Focusing our attention on distribution, here is a non-exhaustive list of smart grid (or smart distribution) applications:

  • Distributed energy resources integration
  • Demand response
  • Remote controlling of feeder reclosers and switches
  • Fault location, isolation and service restoration
  • Adaptive distribution feeder protection
  • Accurate fault location based on wave shape analysis
  • Remote controlling of capacitors
  • Volt and Var control and optimisation (for conservation voltage reduction and peak shaving)
  • Power quality measurements (Voltage sags and surges, harmonic content, etc,)
  • Distribution line monitoring (power measurements)

These applications will require technologies, such as sensors, telecommunication infrastructure, analysis, simulation software and so on, to facilitate real time decisions and to meet growing customer expectations. With the integration of different smart distribution applications, software tools are being developed to integrate information from dissimilar systems and to summarize it, so as to facilitate and enhance operational decisions for the distribution system.

A number of these applications are under consideration in several current smart grid demonstration projects. The EPRI Smart Grid demonstration project and DMS Demonstration initiative are good examples of technology development and collaboration. Generally, distribution utilities are developing such applications on a project-by-project basis. It would be better in principle if many or all the applications could be evaluated in combination, as they have mutual influence.

For example, distribution systems are combining applications to achieve improved operational efficiency. These combined applications include, but are not limited to, Volt and Var control, distributed generation that is connected to either the medium-voltage or low-voltage system, and an automatic service restoration scheme, which has the capability to change the system configuration following a fault event on the distribution system. Integration of these applications is becoming essential to guarantee continued or improved network performance for energy delivery to the customer.

Since many distribution utilities are testing technologies and advanced smart grid applications in demonstration projects and in R&D programs, there is an opportunity to share the lessons learned with each other to avoid pitfalls and to benefit from the best experiences.

Another requirement is to develop standards that promote interoperability and interchangeability of end-use devices in order to reach, at least in the long term, a plug-and-play type design. International standards committees such as IEC TC 57 are extending standards from existing transmission applications to support the goal of distribution-level interoperability.

Within the framework of IEEE, the Power and Energy Society's Smart Distribution (SD) Working Group (part of the Distribution Subcommittee) is organizing panel and paper sessions to promote knowledge sharing. Task forces on Volt and Var, and on Distribution Management Systems, were launched recently to bring together experts to share experiences and develop standards. The distribution planning working group, which is affiliated with the Power Systems Planning and Implementation committee, supports the development of new planning tools, including advanced SG applications simulations.

In conclusion, the utility's distribution system has been and is in a continuous state of change and evolution. Emerging smart grid technologies are accelerating the transformation of the distribution system into the smart distribution system of the future. New operating techniques and design practices will be developed to continue improving the reliability of the distribution system. Engineers will develop new tools and applications to be integrated with today's technologies so as to ensure the resilience of the distribution system and the achieve a self-healing grid. The new smart distribution era will be indeed an exciting time with tremendous opportunity for distribution engineers.

Contributor

  • Georges SimardGeorges Simard, an IEEE senior member, is a power engineer consultant. He has worked in distribution network development for more than 30 years for Hydro-Québec Distribution, where he has been responsible for developing roadmaps and writing standards. He chairs the IEEE / PES Smart Distribution Working Group and is a member of the IEEE/PES Intelligent Grid Coordinating Committee and the international projects subcommittee of DistribuTECH's Advisory Committee.

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  • Robert UluskiRobert Uluski, an IEEE member, has over 35 years of electric utility experience, with a focus on planning and implementing distribution automation systems.

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  • George Larry ClarkGeorge Larry Clark, an IEEE senior member, is principal engineer, power delivery, with Alabama Power Company, where he supports distribution SCADA, distribution automation, electronic mapboard (a computer-based, digital presentation of the Distribution Switching Diagram), the integrated distribution management system and smart grid strategy. He chairs the distribution automation subcommittee of DistribuTECH Advisory Committee and is Vice Chairman of the IEEE PES Smart Distribution Working Group.

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About the Smart Grid Newsletter

A monthly publication, the IEEE Smart Grid Newsletter features practical and timely technical information and forward-looking commentary on smart grid developments and deployments around the world. Designed to foster greater understanding and collaboration between diverse stakeholders, the newsletter brings together experts, thought-leaders, and decision-makers to exchange information and discuss issues affecting the evolution of the smart grid.

Contributors

Georges SimardGeorges Simard, an IEEE senior member, is a power engineer consultant. He worked in distribution network development for more than 30 years...
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George Larry ClarkGeorge Larry Clark, an IEEE senior member, is principal engineer, power delivery, with Alabama Power Company, where he supports distribution SCADA...
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Robert UluskiRobert Uluski, an IEEE member, is technical executive at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), where he leads R&D activities in advanced...
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Harry StepheyHarry Stephey is an IEEE member and has over 40 years of experience in engineering management, product development and project management.
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Nirmal-Kumar C. NairNirmal-Kumar C. Nair, a senior member of IEEE, is currently a senior lecturer in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering...
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Momen BahadornejadMomen Bahadornejad, a member of IEEE, works as a research associate at the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering...
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Manimaran GovindarasuManimaran Govindarasu is a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Iowa State University...
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Adam HahnAdam Hahn, a student member of IEEE, is a doctoral student in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering...
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Contributors

Hao LiangHao Liang, a student member of IEEE, is a Ph.D. candidate in the department of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Waterloo.
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Weihua ZhuangWeihua Zhuang, an IEEE fellow, has been a professor at the department of electrical and computer engineering, University of Waterloo, Canada, since 1993.
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Xuemin (Sherman) Shen Xuemin (Sherman) Shen is a professor and University Research Chair in the department of electrical and computer engineering, University of Waterloo, Canada.
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Kerry CheungKerry Cheung is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education Fellow. He has an M.S. and Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
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William ParksWilliam Parks serves as the Principal Technical Advisor to the Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Department of Energy in the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability (OE).
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Anjan BoseAnjan Bose is a Senior Advisor to the Under Secretary of Energy at DOE. He is on leave from Washington State University where he is Regents Professor.
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Xi FangXi Fang (IEEE Student Member) received his B.S and M.E from Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, Beijing, in 2005 and 2008, respectively.
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Satyajayant MisraSatyajayant Misra, an IEEE member, is an assistant professor in computer science at New Mexico State University. He serves on the editorial boards for several IEEE journals.
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Guoliang XueGuoliang Xue, an IEEE fellow, is a professor of computer science at Arizona State University. He is an associate editor of two IEEE publications.

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Dejun YangDejun Yang (IEEE Student Member) received his B.S. from Peking University, Beijing, in 2007. He is a Ph.D. candidate at Arizona State University.
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RobertsBrad Roberts, a senior life member of IEEE, is the Power Quality Systems Director in the power quality products division at S&C Electric Company.
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