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In My View

By Anil Pahwa
Past, Present, Future
Impact of distribution management systems
Power distribution systems are the lowest end of power systems and thus are nearest to the customers. It is
estimated that the capital invested in power distribution systems worldwide is 40% of the total investment in
power systems. Of the remaining 60%, generation accounts for 40% and transmission accounts for 20%.
Customers experience the direct impact of events occurring in distribution systems because they are directly
connected to it. According to some reports, 80% of the interruptions experienced by customers are due to
outages in distribution systems. Although power distribution systems are a large part of power systems and
have a direct impact on the customers, integration of automation into their operation and control have lagged
considerably behind those of generation and transmission systems. Progress in power distribution system
automation has been relatively slow due to the large investment needed to automate these systems with an
extremely large number of components. Now, with the infusion of smart grid technology, new challenges and
opportunities are emerging. Smart grid initiatives and funding by the federal government for utilities
implementing smart grid technologies has accelerated activities related to distribution automation (DA) and
smart metering. Similarly, the number of customers installing rooftop solar generation or owning plug-in hybrid
or electric vehicles is gradually increasing. The high penetration of such devices creates new dynamics for
which the current equipment in distribution systems is inadequate. Rapid fluctuations of power output from
distributed renewable resources causes severe voltage control problems. Further, current standards do not
permit the operation of distribution systems in islanded mode with distributed generation. New standards to
permit the operation of a distribution system as a microgrid will be of extreme value to maintain the availability
of power supply to customers upon the loss of power from the grid and under natural disasters, such as
hurricanes and earthquakes as well as terrorist acts.
Currently, very little real-time information is available to operators from the distribution system. Most often, the
only real-time measurement available for distribution systems is from the feeder gateway at the substation. As
a result, most of the operation and planning of distribution systems has relied on heuristics and archived
information. For example, every utility records load demand at a select group of customers representing
different load classes. This activity is called load research. These statistical sample data provide information for
operation and planning. Due to the lack of automation, most of the distribution systems operate in
nonoptimum mode and have difficulties in recovering from abnormal events. Attempts to automate electricity
distribution to improve system operation have been ongoing since the introduction of the concept of DA in the
1970s. Advances in computer and communication technology have made DA possible. Automation allows
utilities to implement flexible control, which would result in enhanced efficiency, reliability, and quality of electric
service. Flexible control also results in more effective utilization and life-extension of the existing distribution
system infrastructure. Several utilities have run pilot projects and some have implemented automation based
on their needs. However, there are no cases where we find comprehensive automation of distribution
systems. In parallel with DA, significant activity has taken place in the automated metering infrastructure (AMI),
which deals mainly with the placement of smart meters in homes to measure and monitor electricity, gas, and
water consumption. Information from AMI systems has also been used by utilities for outage management.
Now, with additional technological progress, the current level of automation is not sufficient. Until now, the
major focus of the smart grid has been on advanced metering, but in the coming years, the utilities will be
gearing up to focus more on DA. In addition, today's customers are more willing to participate in activities that
result in energy conservation and generation of electricity from renewable resources. We see many people
opting to install rooftop solar generators as well as energy storage devices in their homes. Similarly, we can
expect people to gradually migrate toward plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles. The higher penetration of such
devices in distribution systems poses new challenges as well as offers new opportunities. Distribution systems
of the future will have homes with smart meters to monitor energy consumption, on-site grid-connected solar
or wind generation, battery storage, and plug-in vehicles. The feeders will have advanced power electronic
switching devices to control the system, and sensors at strategic locations to measure the flow of real and
reactive power, voltage, and current. Similarly, the substation will have power electronic controls,
measurements, and protection to operate the system more efficiently and reliably. The system will have a
seamless communication layer from the utility's control room to customers, and it will be integrated with
advanced cyber systems to enable its operation. Substantially more real-time information will be available to
facilitate their operation and control.
Since there has been no comprehensive approach to the automation of distribution systems, the dis-tribution
management sys-tem (DMS), which, in general, can be defined as a computer- and communication-based
system to manage the distribution system, has had different meanings to different utilities. It could be a
system for DA, outage management, or facilities and work order management utilizing the geographical
information system (GIS). In many instances, we find different systems within the same utility addressing
different system management issues. These systems employ application interfaces between dissimilar
applications and frequently these applications run on separate noncompatible databases. The synchronization
of databases is a constant concern and maintenance issue for the existing DMS.
Integrated Distribution Management System
In the future, various management activities in distribution systems will be integrated, which will be managed
by the next generation integrated distribution management system (IDMS). The IDMS will use a connected
model based on the GIS, and it will utilize interconnected relationship and connectivity of various distribution
system components including the substation and its associated control and intelligent discrete sites along the
distribution circuits. The operators will have a full view of the electric distribution system, including customer
information system (CIS) as well as outage management system (OMS) data. Techniques for analysis,
information display, and navigation are being developed to assist the operators in responding to the dynamics
of the distribution system and to system disturbances. Further, real-time applications for automated
management of the smart distribution systems are being explored.
The management of distribution systems of the future would require faster decisions and thus real-time
analysis of distribution systems. Since more data can be measured, the analysis becomes more complex. The
tools should be able to use these data effectively. As an example, real-time monitoring and analysis would
lead to faster system restoration following emergencies. Since most of the equipment is expected to operate
near capacity, long duration outages can lead to problems due to enduring component of cold load pickup
associated with thermostatically controlled devices, such as air conditioners. In such cases, step-by-step
restoration would be needed to avoid stressing the transformers beyond their capability. Real-time monitoring
and analysis not only provide the status on loading of equipment but also allows determination of the next
step, such as location and time of the next switch to be closed to restore a group of customers. With judicious
selection, restoration can be accomplished in little time; thus improving the reliability of electricity supply to the
customers. Some applications expected to be integrated in the next generation of IDMS include the following:
optimal volt/volt-ampere reactive control
real-time analysis
adaptive protection
contingency evaluation
advanced fault location and service restoration
dynamic loading of power equipment
operation with large penetration of customer-owned renewable generation
operation of the system as a microgrid
real-time pricing and demand response.
As we have clearly seen, there is a real need to deploy a new generation of DMS in the distribution system to
operate with a higher reliability and efficiency. However, cost has been and will be a big impediment to the
widespread deployment of the IDMS. The distribution systems in the United States have operated with very
high reliability even without much automation. Therefore, unless the utilities see a real bottleneck in their
operations, they would be reluctant to make large investments. Smart grid funding initiatives by the U.S.
Department of Energy for implementing automation in utility operation is a step in the right direction. Such
incentives allow utilities to invest in activities that they might not otherwise consider seriously. The collective
experience gained by such projects can show the benefits to other utilities and thus speed up the process.
Continuation of such funding in the future is very desirable but uncertain.
The Role of Customers
In the future, a lot will depend on the customers' actions. Their actions will make it necessary for utilities to
modernize their systems. For example, the success of plug-in vehicles and their rate of acceptance by the
customers is unclear at present. Similarly, the future penetration of customer-owned renewable generation is
not known. Some parts of the country will see more of these activities than other parts. The cost of electricity
and equipment, incentives by federal and state government, desire of customers to be green, and
opportunities for the customers to sell power to the grid will be some of the factors that will determine this
growth. Larger penetration of such devices will force utilities to modernize their system to manage it more
effectively. So the question really is: Should the utilities start modernizing their system in anticipation of
change in customer-level activities, or should they wait for changes to take place first? There is no clear
answer to this question. What is definitely clear, however, is that the DMS of the future will be different from
today's system. They will integrate many new functions while utilizing common databases.