The Grid of the future: From smart to interoperable to self-healing

The Grid of the future: From smart to interoperable to self-healing

We are reaping some of the benefits we thought we would get from smart grid. Were not reaping all of the benefits we thought we would get from it, said Jason Handley, director of smart grid emerging technology and operations in the emerging technology office at Duke Energy. Handley spoke at Energy Centrals Smart Cities Conference in Charlotte this week. And Handley pulled no punches on how he wants to reap more of those benefits: He wants better interoperability, and he doesnt think were there yet.

Starting with smart grid

Handleys utility, Duke Energy, is the largest utility in the U.S., serving over seven million meters in the Carolinas, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and Florida. Dukes first generation of smart grid deployment in 2007 focused on connectivity with lots of devices and a cellular 3G backhaul network that included some IP-based nodes and a whole lot of radiosalong with sensors and serial automation along the distribution network.
With Dukes first smart grid rolloutand, as Handley added, probably with every first smart grid rolloutquestions popped up. In fact, usually a lot of questions popped up: How will all of this communicate with my back office? Will this device have to go on a pole, and how do I do that? How many devices do I really need?

Despite all the questions, Duke followed up that 2007 deployment in 2010 with a build-out that added streetlight control, weather sensors, retrofits for capacitor banks, work with partial discharge and secondary load monitoring, along with some Wi-Fi voltage regulators that changed the game a bit for Duke by using a 3G node.

Rather than putting modems on each device, Duke put Wi-Fi that talks with that multi-carrier node, and that particular project cost dropped from approximately $24,000 to $2,000. That out-of-the-box digital interoperability got the utility thinking aboutyou guessed iteven more interoperability.
Thats what the smart grid is really all about, Handley told the audience at Smart Cities. All of this is about better interoperability.

To truly understand how all these smart grid devices (from the substation to a customers smart appliances) will work in harmonyor wont work in harmony, as the case may beDuke started a series of pilots to get that complete, holistic view of how it all operates together from the bottom to the top, Handley added.
From those pilots, they learned a few lessons. Among those was the problem that most solutions provided by vendors in this industry are single-purpose and solitarymeaning they only solve one issue and that most are proprietary. So the devices dont work well matched together with other devices that are also ensconced in proprietary thinking.
Packaged solutions have worked for us in the past because weve always believed in centralized data, said Handley. But we dont believe this will work for us going forward.
Why? Well, that was another interesting lesson gleaned from those pilots.

Drilling down, Duke noticed something very specific with this interoperability issue from the substation smart grid pilots. Looking directly at a test site at the McAlpine substation, there was only one place that Handley and his team saw data come together and cross-pollinating, and that was on the enterprise service bus well past the head end, which slowed things down immensely.

Handley offered a detailed example following a solar swing that happens a lot: Theres a cloud.
The cloud comes in and darkens the panel. The line system picks up the dip, sending that info back to the utility office, which pushes a response back out into the field and kicks on, perhaps, a battery to make up the difference.

Centralized decisions like this can be slowupward of a minute, Handley said. And a cloud moves in a minute. So that late decision could be the wrong one for that second. We need decisions based on that secondor a fraction of that second. That means we need more grid-edge intelligence.
We have to start dealing with field data in the field, he added.

Finding answers to those questions

Now remember the start of this article where we told you Handleys title? Heres where it comes into play.
Handley is director of smart grid emerging technology and operations for Duke. What does that mean? That means he (and his team) do R&D, which is rare inside a utility.
And the R&D theyve been doing lately is in that area of solving the interoperability problem. They want to find the solution allowing utilities to deal with field data onsite without a centralized decision process. They started, of course, like all good research does: They asked a lot of questions.

We thought: If we have low voltage in a current sensor, does that need to be pushed back to our DMS to chew on that, or could this be done out in the field locally? said Handley, giving a specific tech example, but they also thought about general concepts, toolike what exactly happens when this exponential rise in data in this industry starts to push against the top-end of the system. In simple terms: What happens where were full of data in our centralized systems and theres no more room for more data?
And all of those questions led to even more questions: Could we implement a field message bus and make that data interoperable in the field? Could it be modular and scalable with true field interoperability and give utilities end-to-end situational awareness?
This is Duke trying to solve that cloud problem, you might say.

It turns out that the short answer to those field bus questions is likely yes. Duke is working on an open field message bus, which you may have seen referenced as OpenFMB in the industry. And, if the current research is correct, that will push that minute-or-more centralized answer down to a fraction-of-a-second field response.  Dukes working with the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (SGIP), the North American Energy Standards Board (NAESB) and the Utility Communications Architecture International Users Group (UCAIug) to gain adoption of OpenFMB, along with a group of utilities and vendors that Duke calls the Coalition of the Willing.

But the Coalition of the Willing isnt just focused on that single OpenFMB push, they are looking at unlocking the potential of distributed applications, according to Handley. His team and the Coalition see more interoperability on the horizonand they are openly pushing for it. Handley was honest about that.
Were working on interoperability now, but interoperability is going to turn into interchangeability at some point. I know that scares some people in this room, but thats probably where were probably headed, Handley told the audience. Were headed toward grid immunity here. And thats more than just a self-healing grid. Eventually, thats an autonomous grid. Thats the future. How we get there, how long it takeswell, were not sure, but were working on it.

Source: Intelligent Utility

Smart Grid Bulletin March 2019

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