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IT Roundtable: The Digitized Grid

Data gathering and controllability offer the quickest path to reliability.
Fortnightly Magazine - January 2005

between business models of energy trading and the physical reality of the system, specifically with regard to reactive power. Most market models we have today are compensating providers for generating active power, but not reactive power.

The system cannot work if you shut down the reactive power flows. But the way we account for power flows in the system leaves us with a gap. Reactive power is not just being overlooked, but the importance of what it brings to the system is being underestimated.

Some work needs to be done that will change the way the markets are conceptualized. It may not be technically challenging because we already have the technical solutions, but it requires aligning the business models with the physical realities of the system. Markets were designed to manage active power and ancillary services, which are perceived as being a local phenomenon. Markets are presently preoccupied with flows of active power, because that's what pays. More megawatts mean more money. But a much more effective way to operate the system would be to coordinate reactive power flows as well as reactive power flows.

As the system is operated now, at times when we are having problems, we can't switch on reactive power as fast as we need. We saw that happen during the August 2003 blackout, and one conclusion of the joint U.S.-Canadian report on the blackout was that coordination of reactive power should be put on the front burner. We strongly support these findings.

Reactive power will have to play a bigger role in planning and daily management, and we need to take a fresh look at how reactive power and voltage are related, from an overall system perspective. We need to elevate business thinking so that reactive power is acknowledged as a player, companies are compensated for putting reactive power into the system, and we can coordinate active and reactive power flows. This will improve reliability and make the system more robust. Toward that end, EPRI has started a global initiative around controlling reactive power. We'll leave the power market design and compensation to others, but if we want a robust system, active and reactive power should be managed together.

NRTC: Co-ops, Connectivity, and the Wild Blue Yonder

A large share of the distribution lines in the United States are owned and operated by rural electric cooperatives. To learn about the grid IT and communications priorities of co-ops, spoke with Steven E. Collier, vice president of emerging technologies for the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NRTC), based in Herndon, Va. The NRTC helps telecom and electric cooperatives to develop and implement IT and telecom services.

Fortnightly: What are electric cooperatives doing, vis-à-vis grid management, communications, and information technologies?

Collier: I don't see a lot of brand-new stuff going on. I see our members continuing to expand AMR (automated meter reading), primarily using power-line carrier (PLC) technologies. We see more distribution systems putting in some level of SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition). Typically, it's not the big centralized system pulling a lot of endpoints, but a smart SCADA that