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Killer App

Distribution management at the smart grid frontier.

Fortnightly Magazine - November 2011

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“With the operational savings of smart grid combined with the deferred capital investment of the power plant that we were able to model through this demand reduction, it really made the business case for us,” Milanowski says.

Plugging in Renewables

DMS technology could pave the way for new energy resources coming onto the grid. Distributed renewables projects, such rooftop solar, will present a management challenge for utilities if those installations become significantly widespread. If a large percentage of customers in a given area add rooftop photovoltaics, for example, all those new two-way power flows will affect safety and require more monitoring. Milanowski says intensive integration is required to bring that kind of distributed resource into current systems, and adds that it might take a decade to get there.

“Fully integrated optimized dispatch of all potential sources of energy, and demand side controls to get the most optimal system we can have—that would be the killer application for smart grid,” he says. DMS technology would be a central component for “integrating demand response, load management, distributed resources, storage, solar panels, wind farms, and fossil fuel central power plants.”

And when electric vehicle adoption reaches a critical mass, ADMS will play a crucial role. Oracle’s Williams highlights the potential for the technology to model electric vehicle loads and to help utilities anticipate capacity constraints and overloads. “[We can] plan to increase capacity or encourage the customer to get on an off-peak electrical vehicle charging rate where they could save some money,” he says.

But while DMS technology might be well suited to serve these future possibilities, Geisler cautions that emphasizing them too much now could risk avoiding the basic challenges that distribution management systems still need to overcome before they can meet today’s requirements. Utilities need operational stability of the grid before they can add distributed resources in a managed progression, he says.

“It’s kind of like eating your dessert first,” Geisler says. “It places a huge responsibility and set of requirements in terms of applications, analysis, assessment, and proactive recommendations on the DMS to be able to address those kinds of issues.”

Over time, evolving needs will lead to progressively more advanced DMS technology. “In the future, as we start to see more of the home area networks and AMI, then they’ll be brought into the control system,” says Tim Taylor. “Right now it’s just not economic for utilities to monitor each and every small photovoltaic that’s out there.”

Securing the Future

As DMS technology evolves to address a wider scope of operational needs, it raises concerns about increasing reliance on an integrated system. Like the HAL 9000 computer’s disastrous breakdown in 2001: A Space Odyssey , failures with a sprawling control system like what’s envisioned for ADMS raise questions about stability and security.

To address those risks, vendors say they are building security into DMS technology from the start at multiple levels, from personnel and design architecture through implementation and process management. Milanowski says OG&E’s approach aims for high availability, with a hot standby system running in parallel at a remote