Smart Grid for a Smart Utility

By Satish Saini

Energy is the biggest business in the world economy with annual Turnover near a whopping $1.7 trillion. The economic growth potential of any country or its GDP is greatly influenced by the overall availability and consumption of energy. When we talk about energy and power, the major attention is mostly on the availability of energy supply sources i.e. the generation segment. But without a strengthened and efficient transmission and distribution grid there is no easy way to supply the reliable power to the end consumers.

Electrical Utility organizations, also called Local Distribution Companies (LDC's), are the entities in the electrical power sector that are responsible for supplying electrical power to various customers in a geographical area through a network of transmission lines and distribution feeders including other assets like transmission and distribution stations. The major role of the utilities is to supply all time reliable, affordable and delivering quality power by maintaining specific parameters in acceptable range like volts, amps, freq. power factor etc.

Key Functions of the Utilities: Include power generation (in some cases, which include bulk generation or DERs); power transmission – or access to the bulk power transmission system at high voltage; power distribution at medium and low voltage; customer services including all administrative, commercial and technical functions to manage, operate and maintain all its assets with optimum efficiency and performance levels.

Opportunities and Drivers for Smart Grid technologies: Increased globalization, changes in the electricity market operations, deregulations, the need of a sustainable and profit-oriented entity and more customer-oriented market has triggered stakeholders across the globe to do more research and develop innovative technologies to operate and manage the grid in a cost effective and efficient way. Most recently the traditional transmission and distribution grid is going through a big transformation involving “Intellect”, “Excellence”, “Innovations”, “Technologies “and, “Products, Services & Solutions”. Smart Grid is one such concept involving all the above, developed and being implemented to strengthen the power grid to supply a reliable, affordable and quality power with improved overall system efficiency.

Smart Grid Concepts and Technologies: The basic concept is “We can’t control what we can’t monitor”. The traditional grid did not have much options to monitor and control the whole transmission and distribution assets over a large geographical scattered area leading to low reliability, longer duration outages, lower customer service quality, inefficient usage of the manpower and other assets and resources and other inefficiencies. The new Smart Grid technologies and concepts are based on “Monitoring” the grid on real time basis; provide events and other “Reports” on system operating parameters and performance; help take proactive and timely actions to “Control” and “Operate” the relevant assets; and to help “Plan”, “Manage” and “Maintain” the overall system with reduced “Technical and Commercial losses” in a cost-effective way with enhanced efficiency.

These objectives are achieved by installing sensors and monitoring devices on various assets along the grid, tele-communication system to communicate with a central monitoring and control room to transmit and receive signals, commands and data. All these are tied together through latest IT systems, servers, computers and software programs.

Smart Grid Applications for a Smart Utility is an integrated approach to make the overall utility smarter in all its segments of operation and management including Technical functions, Commercial operations, Customer services and all Administrative decisions through a customized and comprehensive solutions developed and implemented based on the particular utility organizational set up and operating and management procedures.

Challenges in implementing Smart Grid Concepts and Technologies leading to a Smart Utility: As per various case studies and communications with multiple stakeholders and utilities over the past years, it has been found that there are numerous smart grid products, technologies and solutions existing and implemented but majority of them were in bits and pieces where internal Lines of Business in the utilities were working in silos while developing and implementing the technology or the product with limited deliverables. So, the utilities were not able to get the full potential benefits of being smart utilities due to these challenges and gaps in communication and coordination internally with all relevant lines of business to reap the overall full benefit.

Major challenge is the gap between the diverse set up & working atmosphere in the end user utilities and the in-depth understanding, knowledge and expertise in the developing technology industry.

Although the overall functions, operational and other needs of the utility industry is the same but still each utility has different organizational set up and different day to day functional procedures and processes in different levels of coordination between various Lines of Business within a utility; performing planning, design, operation, management and maintenance jobs for the transmission and distribution grid assets. The majority of vendors, suppliers, consultants and the other industry experts have the required knowledge and expertise to develop innovative products with latest technologies based on the basic operations and needs of a utility. But majority of them don’t have the access to the detailed internal operational procedures being adopted and followed by various utilities.

The second challenge is with the larger utilities where there are multiple Lines of Business with different reporting authorities and all working in silos with different mandate, objectives, mission and vision. This leads to application of a particular product and technology in bits and pieces and in silos rather than a comprehensive solution where the utility is not able to improve all of its operations and other functions in enhancing overall efficiency and achieving optimum return on investments.

The third challenge again with the utilities is the lack of required knowledge, expertise and skills regarding the latest available technologies, products and solutions at desired levels of staff working on the planning, development and implementation of these initiatives in the utility. These Technologies and Concepts can be implemented more effectively and the gaps can be filled by designing and developing a customized technology solution relevant to the particular utility operations and needs to get the full benefits from its application by engaging all relevant stakeholders starting from conceptual planning to final in-service stage.

The second and third challenge would be addressed as lack of a well-directed mandate from the top authority in the utility with a common objective and with a dedicated team having desired knowledge, expertise and skills to develop and implement these programs.

Case Study on Benefits of Smart Grid Concepts for a Smart Utility: The author had the opportunity to lead numerous smart grid programs and projects and one such initiative was on a pilot project funded by the World Bank in late 1990s while managing a utility sub-division in northern part of India in South Asian region. All the above gaps and challenges were resolved with a centralized direction strategy consisting of a core team and with a detailed carefully designed coordination plan developed in the initial product design phase between the utility staff from all relevant Lines of Business and with the vendors, suppliers and consultants to develop a customized product. A comprehensive and customized solution was developed leading to significantly enhanced efficiency in all segments of the utility operations making the utility sub-division the “smart unit” across the province.

How these strategies impacted the Return on Investment and Pay-back period other than above benefits: The original plan as initiated by the World bank was to just segregate the assets on the rural distribution feeders with Remote Controlled devices and through a DMS and telecom technology using a basic Remote-Controlled Load Management System (RCLMS) with a pay-back period of 5 years. But with all the customization, modifications- the applications of the concept and technology were expanded with the same overall frame-work to address all three operational segments of the utility sub-division like Technical, Commercial and Administrative functions. The final product led to the marvelous less than 1 year as pay-back period instead of original 5 years.

The author is leading this initiative on “Smart Grid technologies and concepts for a Smart Utility” in IEEE Smart Grid Community under its Technical Activities Committee while communicating with numerous utilities and other market stakeholders. He can be contacted for any questions on case studies and any further guidance for technology concepts, developing and implementing such programs and also for upcoming webinars, tutorials and other supporting matter on this.

For a downloadable copy of the January 2019 eNewsletterwhich includes this article, please visit the IEEE Smart Grid Resource Center  
Satish Saini

Satish Saini is a licensed Professional Engineer registered with PEO in Ontario, Canada. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering, and has completed numerous advanced courses in various fields of power transmission, distribution, smart grid, MicroGrids, power automation and project management.

He has 33 years of accomplished management experience in various fields of energy and power including utility operations, generation, transmission, distribution, system planning and maintenance, project and portfolio management. He has advised and participated in the development of various energy policies with ministries, regulatory authorities, utilities and local distribution companies. His experience and expertise also include business development and project management related to renewable energy, smart metering / AMI, Advanced Distribution System (ADS) / Smart Grid, DSM and DMS. Throughout his career he was deeply involved in process development, recruitment, training and mentoring staff with diverse backgrounds.

Currently he is working as a Senior Project Manager in Hydro One (one of the largest utility in Canada) in Toronto. He is involved in managing a large portfolio of various types of transmission and distribution projects all over the province of Ontario.

He has been honoured, awarded and recognized many times throughout his professional career world-wide for his achievements and contributions towards energy and power system and advising on solutions for enhancing overall efficiency, system reliability and customer service using innovative solutions and technologies.

He is an active member of IEEE in various committees, Task Forces and Working Groups related to Smart Distribution, Smart Grid, MicroGrids and Smart Cities; and also Chair of IEEE Smart Grid Technical Activities Committee. He has a strong vision of developing engineering community with innovative programs for future engineers to bridge the gaps between school education and practical workplace requirements.

Past Issues

To view archived articles, and issues, which deliver rich insight into the forces shaping the future of the smart grid. Older Bulletins (formerly eNewsletter) can be found here. To download full issues, visit the publications section of the IEEE Smart Grid Resource Center.

IEEE Smart Grid Bulletin Editors

IEEE Smart Grid Bulletin Compendium

The IEEE Smart Grid Bulletin Compendium "Smart Grid: The Next Decade" is the first of its kind promotional compilation featuring 32 "best of the best" insightful articles from recent issues of the IEEE Smart Grid Bulletin and will be the go-to resource for industry professionals for years to come. Click here to read "Smart Grid: The Next Decade"