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Certain smart grid technologies stand out in wake of Sandy

SUBNET Solutions Inc | Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Thousands of utility customers are slowly getting their power back after Hurricane Sandy doused the lights for millions of people in several states, and now, the smart grid technologies that have helped utilities the most - as well as those that would have helped even more - are beginning to emerge.

According to Renew Grid, utilities have been taking notes throughout the cleanup process on what could have been done to create a more reliable grid, and how they could have better prepared and reacted to the storm. John McDonald, director of technical strategy and policy development at GE Digital Energy, said the storm is proof that utilities will need to invest in smart grid technologies. If these devices, such as substation automation, had been in place, fewer customers would have lost power, and the severity of the outages that did occur would be greatly diminished.

"Utilities are supposed to do the best job they can for their customers in respect to reliability, safety and economics, and the smart grid provides the technologies that give utilities all those capabilities in a big way," he said.

McDonald said smart grid technologies would help every aspect of safeguarding the electric grid from powerful storms, from prevention to recovery. Utilities can use smart grid systems to install advanced load-flow programs, which allow them to simulate what would would happen to their distribution infrastructure during any given event. Once the weakest area of the grid is determined, the utility can then turn off any at-risk equipment, send power along a different route and keep the juice flowing as much as possible.

Once the storm hits and during recovery periods, intelligent electronic devices can be used as two-way communications modules that utilities can use to quickly identify what areas are the most crippled by the event.

McDonald stated that Sandy has confirmed the three top smart grid technologies that every utility should invest in: a geographic information system, an outage management system and a distribution management system.

A geographic information system (GIS) creates a digital map of a utility entire service area. This can be paired with an outage management system (OMS) that can quickly identify even the slightest shifts in the health of infrastructure, diagnose a problem and alert grid operators exactly where the problem occurred.

A strong distribution management system (DMS) delivers all of this data to the utility. Some of the most advanced DMSs now use social networks to get the information across, with McDonald noting that automated solutions that allow utilities to locate outages by sifting through Facebook and Twitter posts are becoming increasingly popular.

Renew Grid reports that McDonald stressed the importance of having a GIS, OMS and DMS structure that works together to monitor and manage an entire distribution system. If properly implemented, such architecture could lead to revolutionary "self-healing" technology, such as fault detection, isolation and restoration. These systems have proven to be extremely effective at identifying and isolating problems, giving utility field workers time to make it to the site and restore service.

"Utilities can detect a disturbance, isolate it and restore service to the healthy sections of the feeder within a minute or so, assuming utilities can close the loop on the software application and have no human in the loop - that’s important," McDonald said. "Otherwise, it’s going to take a lot more time to get things done."

SUBNET's products help utilities install these smart grid technologies, and use a vendor-agnostic approach that allows companies to connect an IED from any vendor across any communication platform, then analyze the data on any business IT system. 

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