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Getting the smart grid of the ground, again

SUBNET Solutions Inc | Wednesday, November 07, 2012

As the next phase of smart grid deployments begins, which will entail moving beyond advanced metering infrastructure and focusing on utility-facing improvements, power companies will need to keep interoperability in mind and look to distribution automation to successfully implement smart grid technologies, according to The Energy Collective.

The media outlet reports that utilities that hope to add automation to their processes should look at some of the mistakes that were made while deploying metering systems - most of which were attributed to designing it through hardware overlay - and instead, design them with new information and data management technologies.

These future programs and communication systems will need to be developed with these state-of-the-art advancements if automation is expected to thrive, according to a new report from GTM Research. The paper, titled "Distribution Automation Communication Networks: Strategies and Market Outlook, 2012-2016," focuses on this message of looking to the past to make the future of smart grid installations more successful and efficient than at any point so far in the grid modernization movement.

"Implementing and obtaining the benefits of DA programs requires access to new communications networks that do not now exist within most distribution grids," the report noted. "In addition, the design, engineering, implementation and operation of these systems require intellectual resources and competencies that are usually associated with IT operations, not electric utilities."

Breaking away from meters
According to the media outlet, the current rhetoric surrounding smart grid deployments may also need to be clarified. Currently, the smart grid is defined as a system that includes everything from power generation facilities to intelligent electronic devices (IEDs), which leads many to confuse networking improvements with advanced hardware concepts.

"Without a clear separation between the two, such thinking can distort network design and allow ancient control paradigms to flourish," wrote Gerry Runte of Pike Research. "This hardware-centric focus distracts attention from the real grid and limits the understanding of its broad potential. The focus ultimately was on building systems, but its observations were quite prescient when we look at what happened to [advanced metering infrastructure]."

Runte added that it is intuitive that most of the media attention paid to smart grid deployments is focused on metering infrastructure, since it is easier to describe, and the devices are customer-facing, making the spending on the programs highly visible. Even the Department of Energy bought into the hype, investing billions of dollars in meter programs. This focus on hardware may have snubbed the transformation into a highly intelligent grid, he said, however, that soon may change.

The future of distribution automation
According to the GTM report, the cumulative market for U.S. private distribution automation communications systems is forecast to be between $600 million and $1.8 billion by the end of 2016. With so many transmission and substation automation programs being deployed, utilities will see swifter and stronger returns on their IED investments, leading GTM to see the distribution automation market as the "greatest opportunity to reap the benefits of the smart grid."

The next step for utilities will be to design a network with a long-term view. Currently, the most popular vision for such a communication system is an IP-based network that melds the the application and physical hardware layers into one distributed, universally interoperable power grid.

Interoperability will be a key factor in successful smart grid deployments. To this end, SUBNET has developed its Unified Grid Intelligence solution - a philosophy toward interoperability that supports SUBNET's holistic methods of achieving real-time integration of all intelligent utility systems.

With SUBNET's innovative interoperability solutions, utilities can combine the latest substation technologies with the most advance networking and computing technologies to build a more reliable and smarter electric grid. 

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