Welcome to the Era of the Digital Utility

Today’s utility must be a digital one.

Today’s utility must be a digital one. Like it or not, we live in a digital world, from the ubiquitous home computer to businesses where the latest technologies and software are applied. Because customers use technology to increase efficiency and productivity, our digital world demands high-quality power. With today’s more sensitive electronics, consumers have little tolerance for momentary electrical disturbances.

In 2000, the U.S. electrical system was named “the greatest engineering achievement of the 20th century” by the U.S. National Academy of Engineering. As impressive as this is, we have underinvested in our bulk power grid. We must now undertake a wholesale modernization program to upgrade facilities that are up to 50 to 70 years old. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimates 60% of the total assets (approximately $800 billion) of the U.S. grid will have to be replaced within the next
10 years.

Demand Equals opportunity

Demand for power is increasing while the infrastructure is reaching the end of its design life. The old 20th century electromechanical power system must be replaced. Embedded intelligence in the system can reduce the demands on engineers, technicians and operators. We need more capacity in the bulk transmission and distribution system, but adding facilities is costly, and in some cases, it is very difficult to get rights-of-way. The advanced technologies available today from a host of manufacturers can help solve this problem. Smart devices not only improve efficiency, but also increase existing equipment and line ratings without adding facilities.

Intelligent Technology

The system needs to predict system excursions, prevent blackouts and limit voltage fluctuations. Intelligent technology is available to do this. Self-diagnostics and sophisticated monitoring systems will also enable us to reduce manpower needed for maintenance and operations. Technology makes it possible for the intelligent utility to be interactive. The Center for Smart Energy has defined three areas of advancement that are bringing together the smart grid or the intelligent utility:

 Advanced hardware includes intelligent monitoring using intelligent sensors, wide-area measurement systems, advanced power electronics, advanced transformers, superconducting magnetic energy-storage devices, advanced motors, two-way meters for customer portal and advanced appliances.

 Advanced software includes data gathering from the network and the end user. It will help make decisions and communicate to all parties. The software will perform load management and manage outages, handle enterprise functions, provide geographic information system data, monitor and control the power system, and perform asset management.

 Advanced materials include high-temperature superconducting cables, ceramic conductors, power storage and flow batteries.

intelligent systems

The intelligent transmission grid is to be self-healing and interactive with power electronics, monitors and sensors feeding software capable of trending and analyzing data to provide real-time displays of system conditions.

The intelligent distribution system anticipates customer outages, often correcting those conditions before the customer sees them, using intelligent high-speed feeder switching. If not, outage management systems identify the problem, isolate it and dispatch trouble crews to restore service.

The intelligent connection to the customer is a two-way communication pathway. Data from millions of meters creates a real-time image of the system. Software analyzes the load data and forecasts the system needs. Customers become partners with the utility in load management. They can choose to reduce their power consumption when the grid needs relief. Demand-side management is viable when the customer is part of the equation.

The integrated network solution must provide a means of bridging the software and the hardware with data trending and analysis, enabling us to convert data into information, which executives, technicians, engineers and other stakeholders will use as we move to create the digital utility.

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