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Demystifying Intelligent Networks

Why the next wave of transformation is already upon us.

Fortnightly Magazine - November 2006

America are saddled with large quantities of aging assets that will need to be replaced within the next 5 to 10 years. Replacing them with today’s designs would not position them well for the future.

Distributed Generation Growth. More states will follow California’s lead and will require a greater percentage of their supply to be met by renewable sources. As this happens, there will be an increased need to analyze the distribution grid’s ability to support bi-directional power, and the need to spend significant money to redesign the grid in a reactive manner, instead of doing it proactively.

Key Roadblocks

The cost of the overall implementation of the smart grid is high by today’s standards and will be difficult to justify under most utility scenarios. Any initiative of this magnitude would need to be viewed as a journey with changing objectives based on signposts.

The risk in the implementation is high. The characteristics of the components (sensors, systems, communications, etc.) will change with time and could move the intelligent network implementation in different directions.

There is significant regulatory skepticism. The key issue to regulatory acceptance is an acceptance/belief in the intelligent network vision. There is significant work to do in proving to regulators that this significant level of investment will in turn provide the benefits proposed, while at the same time minimize overall risk. The shift from time-based maintenance to condition-based maintenance also will be difficult to implement.

Large changes almost always face a high degree of skepticism within a utility, halting many of them at the pilot stage. Any change in this area will require intense education of the key players. But change is happening rapidly. Many vendors are working on distributed generation, embedding sensors in the new generation of equipment, developing new materials, and so on. These developments have the potential to alter the dynamics of the changes and how quickly they can be implemented. The key to managing risk is to develop an overall roadmap and follow the roadmap in manageable chunks. This process should begin now, with a strong focus on condition-based maintenance.

Next Steps

Utilities cannot afford to ignore the coming transformation of their networks. Doing so will lead only to greater costs. The key is to develop a strategy and to stay abreast of the leading best practices. The following steps are crucial:

• Create appropriate signposts and make changes to the strategy as the timing becomes right;
• Get started early. There are enough value-driven options available now;
• Do not forget the foundation. Ensure the basic capabilities are implemented to support the future options; and
• Develop an overall roadmap, to be followed in manageable chunks.

Intelligent networks represent the next wave of utility transformation, driving significant benefits in almost all facets of utility operations, ranging from customer service to field operations to T&D (see Figure 1) . Several industry efforts already are underway in this area.