Today's grid planners need better tools

Enernex CTO reports at IEEE event on DER planning

The deployment of DER on power grids around the nation is happening much faster than most experts expected just a few years ago, and the tools needed adjust for the changes in many cases do not yet exist, Eric Gunther said yesterday in an IEEE webinar as the sole presenter. Some vendors will say their tools do everything but in his work as the chief technology officer of engineering consultancy Enernex, working with Southern California Edison (SCE) and others, Gunther knows the growing complexity of the grid requires multiple new tools and systems that will require R&D.

Gunther is a founding member of the IEEE Smart Grid community and his firm has been at the core of smart grid development for many years. Enernex was chosen by EPRI to help create the original smart grid interoperability roadmap that established the SGIP under NIST (SGT, 2009-Apr-7).

Yesterday's webinar was titled, "Distribution System Planning for Pervasive DER." Even with the tools available today to measure a wide variety of variables on the grid for planning purposes, the work is all done by hand, Gunther said. As this job grows more complex, automated systems are going to be needed, he added.

"This increased demand on the network [to handle DER] is really what's requiring us to upgrade the power systems infrastructure, the communications, how we model our network and keep track of what its state is and what we need to do with market systems, how the enterprise applications need to change, business processes and personnel. Pretty much everything is affected as we begin to make this change," Gunther said.

"The thing is, we have to realize this new capability along a timeline that's compatible with the need. One thing we're definitely seeing is one size does not fit all, not every part of the country or even within an individual utility territory, is going to evolve at the same pace.

"We have to find a way to do this that fits an intelligent business case," he added.

One of Gunther's slides showed a graph of available tools and the measurements they offered including balanced and unbalanced power flow, short circuit, relay condition, arc flash, harmonic analysis, transient analysis, dynamic analysis, quasi steady-state analysis, state estimation and operation at control. Of the well over a dozen brand names of tools on the chart – with rows of green, yellow and red boxes to show the abilities of each brand – not one could handle all of the variables and Gunther later noted SCE has a much longer list of variables it needs tools to measure.

Despite having a range of tools for grid planning, "we don't have in our industry really good guidelines yet on how to apply these tools for this next-generation planning process. That's a work in progress that institutions such as EPRI and DOE are looking at, to be able to help make some recommendations."

Utilities "who really understand this problem, will be able to, through the power of the purse, indicate to their software providers the kind of capabilities that they are going to need," in planning for pervasive DER. But what is needed is more than just tools, Gunther said. "It's really about a more comprehensive planning system."

SCE unveiled its new grid-management system at the DistribuTech conference in Orlando, Fla, this month, he added, "because they are trying to send a signal to the vendor community on what they are going to need to be buying in the not too distant future." The IOU was also letting other utilities know it wants to collaborate with them to increase buying power and make clear to vendors what utilities want and need developed.

Gunther and his colleagues have for years talked about the need for the ability "to maintain a dynamical [mathematically fluid], topology-correct, temporally correct, electrically correct grid model," he said. That has been a "Holy Grail" for as long as he has been in the business. SCE and many other utilities he has talked to, "see this as foundational to not only the planning process but the operational process."

Such a system would let a utility, "dynamically make decisions based on sensing and analytics," he added, calling that a key part of the planning and operations systems he wants to see developed.

Automation please

Planning timeframes and scenarios have been part of the grid planning process for some time, but "it needs to be even more structured and we've got a lot more variables that we have got to be able to go through much more quickly. We can no longer manually create the case list. We are going to need some automated help," Gunther said.

Such a system would need condition-based asset management and be able to forecast and load-profile down to the individual premise, he added. "We've got a number of tools out there that can do a great job at individual-premise modeling – GidLab-D comes to mind for that – but those capabilities have not been integrated into the overall higher-level planning system."

And that is needed because, "every feeder now matters and almost every load can matter depending on their characteristics." Other needed features include simulations and micro-climate modeling, Gunther said, and "these are just a few of the characteristics that have to be addressed in a new and more modern planning system."

SCE seeks 80 features

SCE is using a formal process, based on EPRI's Intelligrid, "to engage all the stakeholders within the organization and really come up with good, traceable requirements for what those tools need to do." That list reached about 80 so far and Gunther showed two slides that described a few of them.

The first of 17 bullet-listed examples was user-defined inputs to develop forecast scenarios to cover economic, geospacial, demographic, SCADA, customer usage, AMI information, load growth project forecast, DER and generation information.

The webinar materials will be available on the IEEE Smart Grid website within a few days, attendees were told during the event.

"The demographics is a big new piece. How can we mash up information from other, existing data sources that can include the socio-economic aspects of the demographics to help us with the planning process," he added.

QUOTABLE: Even if we get the vendor community to produce some tools that do a lot more of this in a single-tool environment, having a standardized way of exchanging information with other tools is still going to be very important, so standards need to be developed for that. – Enernex Chief Technology Officer Erich Gunther in a presentation on an IEEE webinar.

While it would be hard for any one tool to do everything that is needed, "we really don't want that vendor lock-in," he added.

Shooting from hip

In the Q&A, a caller asked about the locational costs in managing DER, and Gunther replied that one thing the industry knows for sure is that there will be locational differences in costs to manage a DER-rich grid. Whether a DER provider should be responsible for locational cost differences is a policy question and if they were, "a traceable, trustable" means of measuring the difference would be needed.

The industry today does a lot of "shooting from the hip," saying DER deployment is too expensive in some places. "So no one trusts anything anyone says about those statements – and they shouldn't because it's not traceable – no one has used a methodology to calculate that."

Once such a methodology is developed, and "we have the trust of the consumers and the regulators on their behalf, then the policymakers can probably do a better job of figuring out what percentage of that should be borne by the individual entity wanting to connect versus the overall cost of raising the overall capability of the system to support all comers."

© 2016 Modern Markets Intelligence Inc. IMPORTANT: This article was reproduced from the February 26, 2016, issue of Smart Grid Today with the limited permission of the owner. To view the full story on Smart Grid Today’s website, please visit

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