Utility X.0

By Nicholas Abi-Samra

Although tomorrow’s Utility X.0 will still depend heavily on central generation plants, it will also include more renewable generation, storage, distributed generation and electric vehicles. Utility X.0 will need to manage such widely distributed systems, more participants and two-way flows of electricity and information.

The early power systems were simple: isolated generation and load. Later these grew into separate “grids” which were then were interconnected. Hence the introduction of Energy Management Systems (EMS), flexible AC transmission systems (FACTS), for controlling and routing grid power flows, and phasor measurement units (PMUs). Electric generators saw some remarkable changes over the years, including innovations in materials, monitoring systems, types and efficiency. As for distribution systems, automation made way sporadically in the 1970s, but only gained real traction from the 1990s on, when utilities came under pressure to improve the reliability and quality of delivered power.

Traditionally, managing power distribution networks had consisted mainly of performing planned switching and restoring systems after unplanned outages, using manual paper-based methods. Given the changing characteristics of the distribution networks today, a number of systems have been introduced for more effective management and control, including: Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA), Outage Management (OMS) and Distribution Management (DMS), along with supporting technologies such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Since these systems overlap to a degree, operators also often need multiple graphical user interfaces (GUIs) to monitor, control and optimize networks. Many utilities have installed systems from different vendors, or employed systems that were user customized, limiting the ability of the various systems to easily interact.

Given the different transformations above, it is hard to say what “version” of the utility we are at now. Are we at Utility 2.0, 3.0? You will get a different answer depending on who you ask. This is why we need to talk about a Utility X.0, as utilities may be at different points on this journey—all affected by changes in generation, transmission and distribution.

In the United States and many other countries, concerns about the environment and energy security have led to significant, sustained growth of wind and solar electricity generation capacity, with output that is highly variable in time and not easy to predict. What is more, as renewable generation is installed on a large scale and often distant from major load centers, transmission systems will have to be expanded, often involving construction of long transmission lines. The bigger and more complicated systems will need to be better equipped to deal with operational uncertainty, and will need to be resilient and self-healing.

Partly in response to such changes in their larger environments, distribution systems are also changing rapidly. New flow patterns on the distribution systems may require changes to the protection and control strategies. As distribution networks become more complex, the need to deliver electricity reliably, safely and securely will drive the adoption of new, single-solution, advanced distribution management systems (ADMS), which represent the most effective architecture for distribution management.

Rather than attempt a single definition of Utility X.0, it seems best to describe some of its needed traits. Examples of the features can be grouped into the following eight “technical domains,” and “present ” and “Utility X.0” states, though some utilities may already be beyond the “present state” indicated in each domain.

1.Supply & Resources
Present state: Heavily dependent on central generation plants; some distributed generation; some storage and renewables (such as solar energy and biofuels); and demand side management
Utility X.0: Microgrids; virtual power plants; high renewable penetration; measures to optimize system efficiency; more storage for renewables and peak load/spinning reserve reduction; and load management before and behind the meter.

2. Component Hardening
Present state:Enhanced wood poles test/treat programs; strengthened critical poles and upgrades; pole attachment and loading audits; and sealing and waterproofing equipment in substations.
Utility X.0: Resilient overhead conductor designs; steel, concrete and composite poles; physical barriers in and around substations; and raising critical components in flood-vulnerable substations.

3. System Resiliency
Present state:Plans for critical loads infrastructures; adequate backups; mobile command centers; central working team; use of social media; and better-placement of lateral fusing.
Utility X.0:Advanced weather prediction systems; protecting of critical circuits; microgrids for critical loads; hydrophobic and nano-particle coatings of conductors; and feeder automation and reconfiguration; and proactive placement of repair crews.

4.Substation Management
Present state: Some distributed monitoring and control; some substation data collected over DNP3/IP protocols; and some vendor interoperability.
Utility X.0: Fiber connected systems; IEC 61850-based messaging; remote engineering access; and modular substation designs.

5.Condition Monitoring
Present state: Time-based maintenance/manual inspection; local condition monitoring; some sensors; and limited equipment condition monitoring.
Utility X.0: On-line advanced sensors; advanced condition monitoring; and centralized software tools with condition monitoring analytics.

6. Integration of Systems
Present state: Some movement away from proprietary hardware and software; some LAN connected substation devices; and some vendor interoperability.
Utility X.0: Service oriented architecture; open communication protocols; and wide-scale substation device interoperability.

7. Data Management
Present state: Some use of spreadsheets; distributed and paper-based systems; grid data historians; and limited use of common information model (CIM) and meter data management.
Utility X.0: Data portals that deliver flexibility to all users across the organization and real-time and offline predictive analytics for management of grids, customer data and assets.

8. Grid Management
Present state: Some automated reactions to critical grid disturbances; SCADA extended to all distribution systems; and software tools (DMS & EMS).
Utility X.0: Holistic and central view of the grid; decentralized and hybrid control; wide-scale usage of phasor measurement units (PMU); extensive wide area monitoring; and high levels of situational awareness and self-healing.




Nicholas Abi-Samra, an IEEE Senior Member since 1983, is a Senior Vice President at DNV GL. With more than 35 years of experience in power systems spanning the energy value chain from the generator to end-use, he was engaged in power systems, planning, operations and maintenance. He has spent most of his career at EPRI and Westinghouse Electric and received several industry awards. He served as the General Chair and Technical Program Coordinator for the 2012 IEEE Power & Energy Society General Meeting.