Digital Solutions for Power Systems


Digital Solutions for Power Systems

The American electrical grid has not kept up with our nation’s demand for power. In fact, according to the Department of Energy (DOE), the growth in peak demand for electricity has exceeded transmission capacity by approximately 25 percent – every year since 1982.

As a result, the industry is playing catch-up when it comes to adding new technologies that can keep up with our wired world. DOE research indicates that reliability has steadily declined over the past 40 years, with more blackouts and brownouts than ever before. Reasons for this include outdated mechanical and analog systems combined with a lack of real-time analytics which would tell utility operators exactly what is happening with the grid.

Not only is losing power an inconvenience for customers, it results in a tremendous amount of lost revenue. Although today’s electric grid is 99.97 percent reliable, the 0.03 percent of down time in outages and interruptions costs Americans at least $150 billion each year.

Digital Technology Solutions

The electric utility industry is essential to our high-tech, super-connected, always-on world. Yet, ironically, over the past decades it has suffered from a lack of investment in the type of advanced computerized technologies it supports.

There has been a tide change for the better as of late, as utilities are finding ways to leverage new technology. The design, development and deployment of digital solutions have ramped up considerably in the past few years, with a goal of improving reliability, resiliency, and efficiency. Some examples of this include:

  • Automated power substation controls and equipment.
  • Smart energy management systems that help to reduce outages.
  • Digital relays for generation, transmission and distribution.
  • Optical communication networks for remote site monitoring and control.
  • Advanced surveillance and equipment protection systems.

Visualization & Awareness

Digital visualization technology combined with line sensors can help electrical utilities gain awareness of what is going on in their power distribution system. This type of line monitoring system displays real-time conditions and allows utility operators to respond with appropriate actions such as switching lines, dispatching repair teams and more.

The DOE is actually working on a project that could potentially allow for visualization of the national grid down to the street level. Visualization will be powered by Google Earth and will be able integrate sensor data, weather information, and grid modeling.

Another digital solution is the enhancement of Phasor Measurement Unit (PMU) tracking. PMUs sample voltage and electric current every 2-4 seconds in designated locations to provide a utility with the data it needs to avoid overcrowding of the system, which can lead to blackouts.

New grid communication technologies are making it possible for PMU activity to be synchronized and sampled several times a second, offering greater visibility to system operators. The number of these so-called “synchrophasors” in use has increased from 200 in 2009 to over 1,700 in 2013.

Over time, the right combination of sensors, processors, and communication and automation technologies will lead to what the industry calls “distribution intelligence.” The ultimate goal is for electric utilities to fully monitor and coordinate power distribution from a remote operations center, allowing for better detection of power outages and quicker response to interruptions.