New GE Digital Tool Part of Grid Management Advancements

Energy companies continue to work on providing solutions to optimize the power grid, part of their efforts to support the integration of renewables and help ensure the reliable delivery of electricity.

Such systems are part of the digital transformation of power generation, bringing increased flexibility to the power supply, supporting faster power restoration after outages, making power transmission and distribution more efficient, and enabling wider use of distributed energy resources (DERs). Research and development of grid management techniques continues to grow as utilities seek better ways to meet customer expectations of reliability, improve power quality and data security, and make the grid more resilient to natural disasters and other threats.

GE Digital is the latest company to unveil a new tool; the group on July 22 announced the release of its Advanced Distribution Management Solution (ADMS), which the company said “enables safe and secure management and orchestration of the electricity distribution grid,” along with delivering “reliability, productivity, and efficiency through a modular architecture, adaptive algorithms, and predictive analytics for autonomous and optimized distribution grid and renewables operations.”

Energy analysts and power transmission and distribution experts told POWER such management systems become more important as increased amounts of renewable energy and DERs are integrated to the grid.

Increasing Complexity

“The grid is becoming far more complex than ever before,” said Amanda Freick, vice president of North American sales for Micatu, a company that provides technologies for a smarter grid. “These complexities require analysis and decision-making, which are often required at a faster pace than our traditional resources can handle. Leveraging advanced grid management systems allows for optimizing this chaos to ensure our utilities can continue delivering safe, reliable, and resilient power.”

Freick told POWER the advanced distribution management system has “become the centralized command center in recent years. Although the capabilities and deployments look different based on specific vendors and utilities, the theory remains the same: create a single pane of glass for operators to manage the distribution system. This aggregation of operational data enables fast decision-making for real-time grid management.”

Technology upgrades, including ADMS systems, can connect assets across the power transmission landscape. Courtesy: GE Digital

GE Digital in Thursday’s announcement noted that upgrades to the software in its ADMS support grid optimization through “flexibility and operational awareness,” which can include faster response times to outages, and shorter outage periods. Advances in grid management also support ongoing power sector efforts to decarbonize, as new systems enable the integration of more renewables such as wind and solar power, along with energy storage. Utility programs in support of electric vehicles (EVs) also can benefit.

Avnaesh Jayantilal, ADMS product director for GE Digital, explained to POWER the major reasons for upgrading to a new version of the management software.

“There are three key areas that we focused on [with] this version,” said Jayantilal, the first being “distributed energy resources enablement—modeling, visualization, optimization, and control [control using IEEE 2030.5].” Jayantilal also noted outage management system [OMS] decentralization, what he called “enhanced work management and tracking of planned and unplanned outages and restoration tasks.” He also said the new version addresses “mobility … support for seamless and collaborative work between control and room and the field crew,” adding that it “improves work efficiency and crew safety.”

“Every day, management of the grid becomes more challenging,” said Jim Walsh, GE Digital General Manager, Grid Software. “The growth of renewables and DERs provides an opportunity for electric utilities to leverage these new resources to manage grid reliability and resiliency. The distribution network is becoming more dynamic and working-from-home has increased the reliability needs for the low-voltage and secondary grid. Our software supports the full spectrum of electric utilities—from small to large—with mission critical, storm-proven systems.”

Supporting Efficiency

Jeremy Klingel, energy and utilities expert with PA Consulting, told POWER, “A primary value to integration of operational technologies such as SCADA [supervisory control and data acquisition], OMS, DMS [distribution management system] is to organize the available data and optimize distribution operations under a single pane of glass. This means that utility control center operators can have a single version of the truth with a view to all controllable grid inputs at their fingertips. This can drive additional efficiency out of the data available from SCADA, operationalize AMI data to inform outage management and decipher instances of nested outages, enable automation of the distribution network by pinpointing fault location and expediting automated restoration, and promote voltage reduction and conservation to manage demand without interrupting customers service.”

“Advanced grid systems enable increased efficiency with the grid’s existing infrastructure. A nuanced example is voltage optimization—the grid needs to operate a voltage within certain boundaries,” said Matt Duesterberg, co-founder and CRO of OhmConnect, a service that pays customers to lower their energy use at home during periods of high demand. “Traditionally, the grid would operate very conservatively without information on where the voltage is at any given time. By having real-time information on the voltage, it allows utilities to operate more closely in an energy efficient manner.”

GE Digital also touted how its ADMS, with DER orchestration, “enables utilities to enhance grid resiliency and reliability.” The group on Thursday also noted how new tools in the ADMS support automated deployment and testing, which can streamline upgrades and deployments and provide “faster time to value.”

Advanced distribution management systems support integration of renewable energy, including wind and solar power, to the transmission grid. Courtesy: GE Digital

Jayantilal acknowledged the digitization of power generation, and said, “digitization through the ADMS is key to enable decarbonization,” with the ADMS “critical for the digitization of the electricity distribution grid. Right now, regulators, consumers, and utilities are focused on the decarbonization of the grid. This requires the ability to digitally model, visualize, optimize, and control grid connected and behind-the-meter DERs [solar PVs, energy storage/batteries, EV chargers, fuel cells, etc.]. These new DERs are also followed by new sensors across the grid.”

Grid Modernization

François Le Scornet, Cleantech & Climate Tech Senior Consultant at Grenoble, France-based Carbonexit Consulting, told POWER, “ADMS are particularly interesting elements of grid modernization because they represent necessary elements for the integration of renewable energy in general and of distributed energy systems [including DERs] in particular. With the increasing penetration of locally distributed power systems, in particular intermittent solar power, the deployment of advanced integrated solutions able to interact more efficiently with a range of smart solutions like building management systems, smart meters, or smart assets/hardware and microgrid controllers, become an increasing necessity.”

The increased prevalence of DERs in power generation comes as more commercial and industrial, as well as residential, customers generate their own power—a large part of the push toward a more reliable and resilient electricity supply.

“Technologies must be updated and better integrated to take into account the significant increase in DERs,” said Le Scornet. “For instance, this is the case for the improved integration of Fault Location Isolation and Service Restoration [FLISR] software—which aim to reduce outages’ impacts—and for the Volt/VAR Optimization [VVO] systems that already allow for the optimization of distribution grid management for both the consumer and the producer benefit. Other elements like load forecasting, renewable forecasting, dynamic grid operation, islanding operation, etc., are also included in the current commercial solutions to different extents. There is no doubt that the integration of ADMS can be seen as a complex and potentially expensive change for utilities, but it remains a very interesting option to prepare for a more ‘uncertain and stochastic’ grid.”

Klingel noted the benefits for utilities from better grid management. “The value stacking can continue if DERMS [distributed energy resource management system] functionality is architected to allow a utility to see on the other side of the meter to plan, and perhaps even aggregate and control customer-owned assets ranging from back-up generation, EVs and battery energy storage for the benefit of the energy market, or more likely, improved resiliency. While intriguing and technologically possible via a number of commercial platforms, very few utilities have been able to re-engineer their grid planning, distribution operations, and longer term-asset performance strategy to realize the full potential of a ADMS or DERMS solution.”

From Control Room to the Field

Jayantilal said GE Digital’s ADMS “is designed for distribution utilities in the control room and also for use by field crews. It will become a core part of the overall ecosystem with FERC Order 2222, which will enable DERs to better participate in electricity markets. The distribution system operator [DSO] will leverage the ADMS to validate the bids/offers for DERs after they are cleared by the RTO/ISO markets.”

“The ecosystem of the power system is in a complete re-design as the sources of generation shift from major plants to DERs,” said Freick. “We’ll continue to see the complexity increase as these resources become able to actively participate in the energy market with support from rulings such as FERC 2222. Visibility to and the management of the resources is non-negotiable to keep the system safe and reliable.”

“The ADMS is key to managing system voltage variability at the distribution level using the Volt/VAR Optimization module,” said Jayantilal. “This is accomplished through controlling transformers, regulators, etc., at the substation level and on the feeders. Utilities have been deploying VVO for multiple use cases including reducing grid losses and deferring CAPEX [capital expenditures for new substations, generation, etc.]. The need for VVO is changing as more DERs are deployed and create additional operational challenges. Utilities are also looking at how to leverage VVO to reduce load without performing load-shedding.”

Increasing volumes of data from varied power generation resources also underscore the need for advanced grid management. Duesterberg told POWER, “The data associated with these advanced systems [such as smart meters] are now critical to keep the lights on. As large numbers of controllable devices come online—from EV chargers to batteries—it is important for all of these devices to communicate with the grid and provide feedback in real time.”

Monitoring at the Residential Level

Jayantilal said that monitoring and control of behind-the-meter DERS, including at the residential level, “is one of the key accomplishments of this version” of GE Digital’s ADMS. “The ability to monitor and control behind-the-meter DERs is critical to the decarbonization effort. We leverage the IEEE 2030.5 communications standard to accomplish this goal. The VVO module mentioned above can now send controls to both grid-connected DERs and smart inverters on rooftop solar.”

Said Freick: “For individual utilities, utilizing something like a DERMS may allow for higher penetration levels of DERs on individual distribution circuits, therefore increasing customer satisfaction and reaching higher renewable energy goals. At a higher level, the regional operators can gain greater visibility and have increased flexibility with the use of these advanced systems.

“In the past, much of the investment into the power system was made at the transmission level,” Freick said. “Due to decentralization of generation sources and other complexities, we see more and more focus shifting to the distribution system, and rightfully so. The challenges in the future will not just be in one area but a combination of political pressures, technical challenges, cultural shifts in operation, and more.”

Consumer Benefits

The prevalence of DERs, supported by advanced grid management, also is considered a way to benefit not only energy producers but also power consumers.

“Advanced grid management generally is discussed as a benefit for the entities running the grid, but the most beneficial sector from advanced energy management systems are the end users, and particularly low-income end users,” said Duesterberg. “Historically, energy has been complex and access to the financial products in the energy markets have been isolated to a select few energy traders and participants. As we have more advanced grid software that can incorporate input from millions of different data points, each individual household can participate in grid signals.”

Duesterberg echoed Jayantilal’s comments on decarbonization, saying, “To get us to 100% carbon-free energy, advanced grid management systems and its associated data will need to be reliable and secure to enable these types of real-time changes.”

Real-time changes also have become more important due to extreme weather events and other incidents that have put a spotlight on electricity reliability and grid resiliency.

Said Jayantilal: “Initial ADMS use cases for electric utilities were around digitizing the real-time situational awareness of the distribution grid, followed by digitizing switching for efficiency and safety, and then, more recently, deploying advanced applications. These applications include VVO and the ability to automate grid restoration [self-healing] using our [FLISR] module … many utilities now count on FLISR to help with grid restoration after major storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, and even a polar vortex.”

Darrell Proctor is a senior associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).

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