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Killer App

Distribution management at the smart grid frontier.

Fortnightly Magazine - November 2011

the country. In late August, for example, Hurricane Irene ripped through the territory of the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA), which serves 1.1 million residential and commercial customers on the highly urbanized New York island. At its height, the outage left half a million customers without power. Not long after the area had recovered, LIPA announced plans to invest in new distribution management technology from Efacec ACS, as part of its smart grid roadmap.

“We are building a new infrastructure, and installing and developing several new systems that are supposed to work together in an integrated way,” says Predrag Vujovic, LIPA’s director of transmission and distribution planning. Efacec ACS’s system, which LIPA plans to deploy in several phases over the next year, includes applications for power optimization and self-healing feeders, real-time storm damage and assessment management, as well as a distribution system simulator for research and analysis at a local university.

“This is a lot of technology, with pilots and phased implementation,” says Gary Ockwell, chief technology officer for Efacec ACS. “You need a planned approach, and you need an architecture that can expand and take the technology.” For LIPA, that means having a service-oriented architecture (SOA) that can readily support integration.

ADMS has its fingers in everything, so maintaining accuracy for the network on a daily basis is paramount. Without that, any solutions introduced won’t be accurate either. A key stumbling block is that an ADMS must be able to handle a barrage of data from disparate systems, including both non-urgent and urgent data. Failure to handle mission-critical data appropriately can be deadly— i.e., opening or closing the wrong switch at the wrong time could electrocute a worker in the field, or cut power in ways that create hazards for customers. “We’re talking about doing things—bang!—right away,” Geisler says. “It’s got to be done safely, efficiently, and it’s got to be done in such a way that you always track what you did.”

On Long Island, LIPA is investing in tools and processes to keep its ADMS data model synchronized with industry standards. “The whole concept is based on an assumption that [with] all data—especially when we’re installing new systems and replacing an old system with a new system—we’ll use the same model,” Vujovic says. Within that data model, consistency reigns. For example, transformers will have the same name structure throughout the system, linking all the data associated with it, such as loads and maintenance activity. The naming convention is expected to increase accuracy while reducing the cost of integration.

But as promising as advanced distribution management systems are in terms of providing greater distribution network control capabilities, they often remain grid-operation centric. “They’re not typically designed to manage things like demand-response, meter information, home area management, or asset management,” says Accenture’s Malcolm. This creates a challenge as utilities seek to provide customers with more timely and detailed information about things like outage restoration. LIPA hopes that its focus on a consistent and standards-compliant data model will facilitate better coordination among its operation, customer relations, maintenance, and planning groups, especially