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New Directions in Distribution Management

Advanced systems turn ‘event-driven’ binary schemes into hybrid hierarchical controls.

Fortnightly Magazine - February 2011

flexibility and data will lead to more opportunities for improvements.

More knowledge about the performance of the network can also lead to improvements in construction practices that can reduce capital costs. It’s common practice in the industry to build distribution circuits to carry peak loading, plus some safety factor for margins against unanticipated conditions. Utilities can reap benefits from better analysis of operating conditions, building up a history of loads and being able to monitor and manage configuration in near-real-time.

DMS solutions also can help the electric industry capture efficiencies related to generation dispatch.

As the smart grid develops, generation supply is becoming more diversified, to include distributed energy resources such as solar and wind, and fossil-based micro-generation. These new distributed energy resources will change not only carbon footprints, but also the very idea of generation dispatch. High penetrations of small point sources added to the management of a few large, centralized generators complicate the monitoring and control equation. On top of that, utility personnel today are starting to think of load as a resource to be served or curtailed as required, depending on operating, reliability, and economic parameters. Carefully and continuously balancing supply and demand assets in the most effective way can lead to significant savings, and reductions in the carbon footprint of electric energy usage.

But delivering optimal resource balance is not easy, and as the mix of loads and sources changes and expands, the operational problem will only get harder. System operators will need automated tools to monitor, analyze and control the distribution system in real time. By enabling operators to clearly understand the shifting patterns of loads and sources, and helping to execute control that keeps the system within acceptable operating parameters of capacity and voltage, DMS enables the grid to optimize any resource, be it supply or load.

A third category of DMS benefits involves improvements in electric reliability. After all, poor reliability represents more than an inconvenience to consumers—it has a huge cost as well.

In this case, DMS can support better reliability in a number of ways, first by providing critical insights into areas of the system with problems or congestion. Through real-time analysis, operators can get early warnings of poor voltage or overloads, and can support decisions to shed load or relieve congestion through switching. Ability to anticipate problems and give dispatchers tools to calculate solutions is one key to a more resilient network. And when things do go wrong and outages occur, DMS can help to locate and isolate faults, and determine the optimal switching sequence to restore service.

Of course, many distribution utilities today have highly reliable networks, so opportunities for improvement may be limited. In fact, the increased complexity in the network, and exposure to areas of cyber failure or even attack, cause some smart grid implementation teams to worry that continuity of service could deteriorate. For some network operators, a smarter grid may be mostly about sustaining reliability, rather than improving it.

DMS as Systems Integrator

As grid configurations and available technology grow ever more complex, advanced DMS tools can