There has been a lot of discussion around the future of utilities and the kind of technologies and applications that would be required to empower them. To this end, the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) has attempted to throw some light on the topic in its recently released draft guidelines on the introduction of automation in the distribution segment.
Outlining the key challenges that utilities today must overcome, the report states that poor metering and billing efficiencies have resulted in high aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses. Further, discoms have weak and inadequate networks and ageing infrastructure, which is not compatible with automation devices. In addition, new stakeholders entering the distribution segment are making the shift from a monopoly business to one that is highly competitive. These challenges have thus made it imperative for utilities to become smarter. Going forward, utilities would need to face more challenges such as meeting high customer expectations, bidirectional power flows with increase in distributed energy sources, and the penetration of electric vehicles.
To move towards a smarter grid, the guidelines thus emphasise the need for utilities to integrate information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) applications. According to the CEA, “Power distribution utilities generally select and implement technological solutions on a piecemeal basis and various systems operate in isolation from each other. Operating the systems in isolation deprives the user of reaping the full benefits of investment. By having various systems integrated, an overall increase in operational efficiency and resource optimisation can be achieved.”
One of the key OT applications that the CEA report talks about is supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), which is a software application program that collates data on a real-time basis from each system connected-network equipment, be it in normal or abnormal condition, and provides this data to the control centre. The information obtained from the software can be analysed, which results in enhanced reliability and faster restoration. Another key OT application for automating discoms is substation automation system (SAS), which is a comprehensive substation control and monitoring solution that enables protection, control, automation, monitoring and communication. The quantum of data that is available for control and monitoring by the concerned authority is about 10 times more in substations equipped with SAS as compared to the conventional ones. Further, open standards and protocols with respect to the software provide the possibility of implementing a vendor-independent solution. Since SAS also enables the remote maintenance of relays, it limits human interference in maintenance procedures.
The distribution management system (DMS) and distribution automation (DA) are other key OT applications that utilities need to consider going forward, states the CEA. DMS refers to a set of applications designed to monitor and control the medium voltage distribution network in a reliable and efficient manner. DMS is an integrated system that manages the day-to-day activities of the distribution network and maintenance of associated systems, and proactively guides operators during system failure. The DMS has access to real-time data, which is then diverted to a single console at the control centre, in an integrated manner. This enables the utility to detect outages and control/resolve them quickly. Moreover, it assists the operator in identifying the fault location so that remedial measures can be taken immediately. The system is usually complemented by the DA system, which helps in not only identifying the outage but also determining exactly which equipment is affected. Meanwhile, the outage management system (OMS) enables the utility to detect and locate outages, and provides information for directing the appropriate response. OMS is usually implemented in sync with the geographic information system (GIS) and customer information system (CIS) to enable better fault detection and provide a status update regarding outages to consumers. OMS also helps in prioritising restoration efforts and aids the utility in directing resources based on criteria such as the location of the emergency facility, size of the outage and duration of the outage. Since OMS is usually supplemented by CIS, it is both a utility-centric and a customer-end application. The application improves not only the quality of service but also the performance assurance standards.
The advanced distribution management system (ADMS) combines SCADA, DMS and OMS to provide a comprehensive suite of applications that support the distribution network in a holistic manner. ADMS includes functions that automate outage restoration and optimise grid performance. In fact, an ADMS enables utilities to make a transition from paperwork, manual processes, and siloed software systems to an integrated system with real-time and near-real-time data and automated processes.
Enterprise resource planning is another important OT application that is deployed to ensure the smooth functioning of organisation-level processes. The software ensures better work control, improved planning and scheduling, and enhanced preventive and predictive maintenance.
Smart grid technologies
According to the CEA’s guidelines, utilities need to prioritise empowerment of consumers, reliability, privacy and renewable integration to ensure a seamless switch to smart grids. To this end, smart grid technologies must be implemented in conjunction with the existing applications. One key smart grid technology is advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), which refers to an integrated system of smart meters, communication networks and data management systems that facilitates two-way communication between utilities and consumers. The system collects and analyses energy usage patterns by interacting with electricity meters. AMI enables utilities to make informed choices in terms of energy usage and improves meter reading accuracy, resulting in improved operational efficiency.
Another demand-side management tool is automated demand response (ADR), which enables load monitoring in real time and communicates with devices directly to prevent system load. By eliminating the additional demand, the utility can mobilise significant cost savings since doing this removes the cost of adding reserve generators for producing electricity. Consumers also benefit by means of lower electricity bills. An additional benefit that ADR offers is that it curbs greenhouse gas emissions since it encourages the customers to prioritise energy use, thereby preventing unnecessary operation of devices.
The meter data management system (MDMS) is another technology that motivates individuals to use energy in an efficient manner. MDMS analyses the data collected and sent by the smart meter to determine electric power costs and enable consumers to use energy efficiently. This data helps power suppliers to better understand electricity consumption patterns and improves the efficiency of recovery work post disasters and accidents. MDMS imports the data, which is subsequently cleansed and processed before it is made available for billing and analysis. Besides, the system facilitates remote connect/disconnect of meters and power restoration verification. Apart from these technologies, utilities can look to business intelligence and analytical tools to support both strategic and tactical decision-making processes.
Planning software solutions are also expected to play an integral role in future utilities as they enable utilities to examine new network developments/augmentation and reduce technical losses by optimising network configuration. Through these tools, utilities can analyse and calculate energy requirement projections, electrical demand projections, as well as transmission and distribution loss trajectory, allowing them to take informed decisions and plan future strategies. However, it is imperative to support planning software solutions with robust communication infrastructure such as SCADA, DMS and AMI.
Benefits of IT-OT integration
Often, the benefits of OT applications installed by discoms are not very evident since the system lacks integration. It is essential to integrate IT and OT in order to increase system efficiency and ensure that discoms deliver improved performance. The integration enables discoms to adopt a proactive approach towards fault/outage resolution. Customer outages that happen because of tripping of devices can be monitored through SCADA, and this, combined with DMS and GIS, can allow the discoms to identify the affected consumers and provide a status update on output devices.
Further, SAP customer relationship management can be used for updating consumer records and informing the consumers about the progress. The integration has several benefits. To begin with, it allows the discoms to prioritise restoration works and manage their resources efficiently. Also, these combined applications can be used to provide information to consumers regarding the duration of outages. Moreover, the integrated communication infrastructure can be used to inform consumers about planned maintenance outages in advance. Therefore, this integration can be used not only to increase performance efficiency but also to enhance customer experience