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Toward a 21st Century Grid

Producing value with advanced distribution management systems.

Fortnightly Magazine - March 2014
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For the last century, the primary mission of U.S. utilities has been to electrify the nation in a way that's safe and affordable. In doing so, utilities have built what has been called the greatest engineering achievement of the 20th century: the electric grid. However, in the late 20th century and early 21st century, the mission of utilities has been changing. New economic, environmental, and technological drivers have entered into the equation, and utilities are now focusing on sustainable strategies for modernizing what has been built in a safe, affordable, and environmentally friendly manner.

Some of this modernization has focused on optimizing existing assets. Understanding the real-time operation of assets has led to significant improvements. For example, utilities digitized many fossil-fired generation stations in the 1990s, to achieve detailed, near real-time insight into the operation of those facilities using enhanced control systems. Utilities are now moving beyond the central stations onto the grid, with optimization strategies utilizing digital technologies. All of these efforts aim to realize significant value and investment returns for the utility.

While the U.S. transmission and distribution systems have had digital devices for many years, new real-time and quasi-real time technologies have the potential to change how assets are utilized. The distribution system in particular provides many optimization opportunities, and questions have arisen as to how utilities will implement adequate controls. Will it be through localized control, central control, or a hybrid distributed control implementation? Some utilities are deploying distribution management systems (DMS) to resolve this question as well as others. Other utilities are skipping a generation in technology and moving directly to advanced distribution management systems (ADMS). ADMS blends DMS functions with outage management system (OMS) functions and integrates them with supporting technologies such as geographic information systems (GIS). Others have referred to this as an integrated distribution management system.

Figure 1 - ADMS Components

In an era where utilities are facing ever-increasing demands from regulators, customers, and shareholders, the industry faces a continued need for optimization and continuous improvement. One course of action available to utilities is through modernizing technologies on the grid that enable near real-time operational insight. As the distribution network becomes more complex, the necessity to deliver electricity reliably, safely, and securely will drive the need for adoption of ADMS technology.

Controlling the Modernized Grid

Acronyms such as SCADA, DMS, and OMS are commonly used in conversations with different industry players without a definition of what's included as part of the system. Figure 1 outlines a representative set of functionality for distribution SCADA, DMS, and OMS.

There are some overlapping functionalities between systems, which often require operators to use multiple graphical user interfaces (GUI) to monitor, control, and optimize the network. Systems support teams typically are required to use multiple tools to maintain the applications and models, resulting in increased complexity. Many utilities have installed systems

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