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Reliability Monitoring: The High-Tech Eye In the Sky

How reliability performance monitoring and standards compliance will be achieved in real time.

Fortnightly Magazine - January 2007

The North American electric power grid has suffered several significant outages in recent years. These events and other incidents around the world spotlight the need for enforceable grid-reliability standards, wide-area visibility of the health of the power system, and real-time monitoring of grid-reliability performance to prevent blackouts. Effective reliability management requires real-time tools and technologies that can detect standards violations so that timely corrective or preventive actions can be taken.

The North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC), formed and managed by the power industry, has overseen North American electricity system reliability since 1967. But until recently, NERC had neither the authority to enforce compliance with reliability standards nor the tools to monitor reliability in real time.

NERC soon will have mandatory reliability management authority. As many readers may be aware, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 directed the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to confirm and regulate an Electricity Reliability Organization (ERO) to establish, monitor, and enforce compliance with mandatory reliability rules. This mandatory authority is an important element of reliability management. FERC certified NERC as the ERO in July 2006. NERC expects to begin performing ERO functions this month. Moreover, the Consortium for Electric Reliability Technology Solutions (CERTS), working for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and with NERC, has, since 2000, been researching, developing, and demonstrating advanced software tools to monitor the electricity grid on a wide-area basis in real time. These tools track compliance with reliability rules and provide a visual assessment of the minute-to-minute health of the grid. The DOE-NERC-CERTS research effort is a positive example of government and industry collaboration to “keep the lights on.”

Gaps in Reliability Technology and Research

Following blackouts on the West Coast in summer 1996, the energy secretary’s Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) Task Force concluded “Reliability standards must be clear, transparent, nondiscriminatory, enforceable, and enforced. Compliance must be mandatory for all entities using the bulk-power system.”

The SEAB report confirmed that electricity system reliability is an essential public good that, without legislation, would be under-provided by competitive markets. The report also recognized that, for the same reasons, public-good research on electricity reliability also would be under-provided—at precisely the time when it would be needed the most. Thus, the SEAB report concluded with a strong recommendation that DOE “monitor research on reliability technologies and assure that gaps do not develop.” The formation of CERTS was a response to a congressional call for collaboration among universities, industry, and national laboratories to focus on public-good electricity reliability research and development needs. 1

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