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The Devil in the Transmission Data

Untapped T&D measurement data could make the difference on reliability.
Fortnightly Magazine - July 2004

to the nation.

While it took some time for utilities to generally embrace SCADA and EMS systems to make productive use of operational data, the industry may not have the time to tap the exponential value of advanced substation data at its leisure. Infrastructure is aging faster than most utilities can keep pace, and this means they must move quickly toward implementing technology that can leverage non-operational data.

Blackout Feedback Falls Short

The Final Report on the Aug. 14, 2003, blackout and associated documents published over the past months, including FERC's (April 19, 2004), reinforce the notion that utilities are not sufficiently aware of the state and weaknesses of their T&D system and that system monitoring and management need to be improved. The first two causes of the blackout are listed as inadequate system understanding and inadequate situational awareness. As long as utilities rely solely on operational data and ignore the more advanced substation data, there will be a ceiling on their understanding of system conditions and weaknesses. With today's higher speed communications and intelligent software, much of this more advanced non-operational data can be processed fast enough to support real time operational decisions, which can enhance system awareness and understanding.

The report suggests that the described "inadequacies" seem to build over time and could have been identified and addressed through continuous aggressive system monitoring and analysis. According to the blackout report, "Although the causes discussed below produced the failures and events of August 14, they did not leap into being that day. Instead as the following chapters explain, they reflect long-standing institutional failures and weaknesses that need to be understood and corrected in order to maintain reliability." This lack of understanding could have been avoided as well. Tapping into vast quantities of non-operational data now available in the T&D system will not only provide a much clearer picture of the state of the system but will identify and address system weaknesses, including the prediction of apparatus failures and the identification of improper relay settings, before they contribute to a catastrophic blackout.

Vegetation-related faults were a key contributor to the blackout. In response, the "strongly recommends that the industry 'average' or standard needs to be substantially improved." Vegetation management cannot be expected to avoid 100 percent of vegetation-related faults, so it behooves utilities to monitor circuits and determine acceptable levels and to be able to identify a trend that suggests additional VM is required. Again, what is needed is an automated system that would establish an index or level at which vegetation-induced faults can no longer be tolerated by the system. Such an index would monitor ongoing trends and trigger an alarm when the threshold has been exceeded.

FERC is aware that utilities will need additional incentives to implement and fund new monitoring and management systems. FERC's policy statement describes its "support (of) NERC to translate the existing reliability standards into clear enforceable standards" as well as to ensure cost recovery of prudent reliability standards to improve grid monitoring and management.

It is clearly stated that the commission "assures public utilities that