Interview with Gerhard Walker, Askan Rahimi-Kian, and Hisham Omara of Opus One Solutions

Omara headshot

Integrated Distribution Planning: Bridging Traditional Capacity Planning and DER Planning

Hisham Omara is the Director of Engineering and Consulting at Opus One Solutions with 10 years experience in the utilities sector in Canada, United Kingdom, Europe, and the Middle East. He engaged in a wide variety of business and strategic planning projects for firms competing in the electric power business. These projects are in response to changing or evolving conditions in the industry, the emergence of new entrants and technologies, or structural and regulatory changes. Furthermore, he has 7 years of experience in the design, development and deployment of smart grid, and energy efficiency solutions. Most recently, he was an Associate Director at Navigant, he established Navigant’s Energy presence in Qatar. Hisham holds a PhD in Electrical Engineering from the University of Manchester.


Askan Rahimi-Kian is the Principal Data Scientist at Opus One Solutions with more than 20 years of professional R&D and consulting experience in power systems, optimal planning, operation and control; energy market design, simulation and analysis. Prior to joining Opus One, Ashkan was V.P. of Engineering at Genscape Inc. and Senior Research Associate at Cornell University.




Gerhard Walker is the Director of Grid Evolution at Opus One Solutions. Prior to his engagement with Opus One he was the Director of Grid Solutions at GE’s Current and started his career in the utility business at the EnBW AG’s DSO Netze BW in Stuttgart, Germany as project manager and leader of a Smart Grid Competence Center. He studied electrical engineering at the University of Stuttgart and Tokyo Tech, and holds a BS and MS degrees in electric and power systems engineering and defending his PhD in Electrical Engineering October of this year.

This interview is a follow up to their IEEE Smart Grid webinar: “Integrated Distribution Planning: Bridging Traditional Capacity Planning and DER Planning.” To view this webinar on-demand, visit the IEEE Smart Grid Resource Center here.


QUESTION: Is there any practical presence of DLMP across the world?

ANSWER: In general, there is, however, different countries and states are moving at different speeds and in different directions when it comes to DLMP or LMP+D concepts, however the concept of an DLMP or LMP+D can be used in four principle ways, all of which have found application at least with Opus One deployments and have been pushed by regulators in certain areas.

  1. As an internal optimization parameter: Without exposing the values to external parties, optimization engines, as are seen in DERMS solutions, can use the DLMP to optimize their techno-economic dispatch of resources, targeting not only a technical optimum, but also an overall economic
  2. As a shadow market: Without generating a full market around DLMPs or LMP+Ds the price signal can be relayed as a shadow market to for example economic dispatch optimization of battery systems that are capturing several revenue streams, including a distribution benefits (or non-wires alternative) revenue
  3. As a full distribution market: For example, New York State is pushing for what they call a distribution system platform which allows third party bidding engines to retrieve the price signals and place bids for their assets on the market
  4. In distribution planning: For the evaluation of non-wires alternatives, LMP+D or DLMP values are being calculated with Opus Ones’ IDP solution to provide the utility a clear visibility into the economic efficiency of non-wires alternatives as compared to traditional system upgrades

All the above-mentioned applications have been or are currently being deployed make the concept of a DLMP or LMP+D on of the most important improvements in the optimization of resource management and deployment on the distribution grid.

QUESTION: Explain /expand on "Substantial DER staked Values" – what do you mean?

ANSWER: Our IDP aims to combine distribution system state estimation (DSSE), scenario generation, prioritization process, and stochastic security-constrained AC optimal power flow (SC-ACOPF) to:

  1. Create an accurate 3-phase AC power flow and optimal power flow for situational awareness across the distribution network (including per phase voltages, currents, real power, reactive power, real loss, reactive losses, power factors, asset operation, asset utilization, load duration curves, and more), for the entire study period (e.g., 10 years, looking back as historical or looking forward as forecast) at each study interval (e.g., hourly)., at every asset level and every node on the bus across the distribution network
  2. Establish specific node, feeder, and substation hosting capacity and capacity constraints for the entire study period (e.g., 10 years) at each study interval (e.g., hourly).
  3. Quantify the technical performance of DER assets, as well as the locational net benefit analysis (LNBA) for DER valuation, deriving distribution locational marginal pricing (DLMP) for monetized value of DER assets
  4. Quantify the different DER applications, their potential cross synergy of the applications, their timescale application, the ability to stack those benefits and the viability of the different valuation mechanisms

Quantification of DER value exchanges on distribution networks to determine the locational net benefit analysis (LNBA) and integrated capacity analysis (ICA) of DERs. The potential values (stacked benefits) includes:

  1. Energy generated or demand curtailed
  2. Capacity relief offsetting peak generation and capital deferral
  3. Voltage regulation due to real and reactive power support
  4. Losses reduced due to real and reactive power support
  5. Transfer capacity for supporting adjacent feeders
  6. Restoration capacity for restoring customers with outages in self-healing switching or resilient islanded operation
  7. Hosting capacity (the ability of a feeder to “host” additional distributed generation)
  8. Energy arbitrage and demand charge reduction for the customer / prosumer
  9. Wholesale market participation (such as frequency regulation and other ancillary services)

Value-based decision making aligns the needs of all stakeholders including system operators, utilities, third parties, active customers / prosumers, and traditional customers Achieving win-win situation as well as full-stack value chain coordination across the integrated grid. DERs can be incented and developed to be planned and operated in a grid-reinforcing and -supporting manner.

QUESTION: What mathematical approach do you prefer to forecast energy in DER? And tell us something about strategies to control VAR and VA in microgrids.

ANSWER: Time-series regression and intelligent-learning algorithms such as artificial neural networks (ANN) are utilized for PV and Wind output forecasting in short-term; using the right and proper mathematical formulation of the Microgrid’s DER, DR (demand response), DA (distribution automation) operational constraints and the right objective function(s), the OPF process solves to define the optimal control settings for the DER/DR/DA assets for each time step of the optimization.

QUESTION: What Optimization techniques do you suggest for multi attribute decision making? Generally, for such multi objective problems NSGA-II or MOEDA are preferred - how do you suggest a mathematical programming approach used for such?

ANSWER: Depending on the nature of the constrained optimization problem, which for power system planning and optimal operation we are usually dealing with mixed-integer nonlinear programming optimization (or MINLP), gradient (or Simplex) methods should be faster in terms of convergence, but heuristic optimization algorithms such as genetic algorithm (GA) and particle swarm optimization (PSO) could be more accurate but much slower in terms of convergence. For multi-objective OPF problems, then weighted single objective function and Simplex/GA/PSO algorithms could be used, or NS-GA/NS-PSO could be used.

QUESTION: In a revenue cap regulation framework, the regulator sets the allowed revenues for each regulation period taking decisions about DSO’s efficiency. How would you consider the regulatory frameworks into your planning model?

ANSWER: Regulatory rates and frameworks as well as asset cost models are key inputs into our IDP framework as it:

  1. Develops potential investment scenarios, hosting capacity upgrades, expansion strategies, and non-wires alternatives (NWA) including traditional assets, DER and DA assets (by location, asset, capacity, and time), and analysis their feasibility across the entire network
  2. Prioritizes each expansion plan based on customer defined criterion and identifies the risk-return trade-off for each expansion plan

QUESTION: Technically how will this plan help future distribution systems to decrease the loss of energy and increase the system efficiency?

ANSWER: If the IDP objective is set to VVO, then it will minimize the network losses (PLoss+QLoss) while keeping all node/bus voltages within user-defined limits (i.e. 5%), and balancing the power flow equations.

QUESTION: How does the solution fit into current regulatory frameworks across the globe? Europe in mind?

ANSWER: Integrated distribution planning works, in principle, in all regulatory frameworks, as its key value lies in the ability to provide full transparency, traceability, and defensibility of planning data past a worst-case scenario analysis.

For Europe especially, where 10-20-year planning horizons are still the norm with most of distribution utilities, IDP provides the currently best available visibility into that planning horizon to allow distribution planners to make “no-regret” investments that cover most if not all scenarios on the planning horizon while providing options around the uncertainties. In addition, by bringing DER planning into capacity planning, non-wires alternatives and the impact of distributed generation can be accounted for in capacity upgrades.

Depending on the regulatory framework, some outputs might have to be varied, e.g. not all regulations allow for localized different DER incentive programs. Such outputs that IDP provides to help utilities steer DER investment could however still be used in regulatory filings or rate cases to support the utilities case when it comes to distribution investment.

QUESTION: What is the future role of utilities in terms of grid investments?

ANSWER: Distribution utilities will play an ever more important role and grid investments will be the key corner stone of that role. The distribution grid, as the common denominator of all new and smart energy concepts, will determine what can be made possible in the future. As distribution utilities more towards DSO concepts (or in Europe DSO 2.0), they will move towards a service based approach of doing business with the distribution grid being the key element to providing any sort of service. Therefore, understanding how, what, where, and when to invest into the distribution grid will be ever more important as traditional planning approaches result in overbuilding grids and rising distribution rates that no longer support the new business models.