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The complexity and huge quantities of data that smart grids generate require transformational control room solutions. The integrated distribution management system (IDMS) gives operators a holistic view with advanced optimisation analytics, helping them make better operational and business decisions.
Radical, transformative technologies often start out by imitating the old school solutions they replace. The “horseless carriages” of the late 19th and early 20th centuries kept many features of horse-drawn vehicles. A similar phenomenon can be seen in the electricity industry. On a simple consumer level, you can buy a light bulb that looks (a bit) like a flickering candle. At the extremely complex level of network control, digital technologies were inspired by analogue systems.
An analogue control room is almost a work of art. The centrepiece is a large map-board of the distribution network that covers the walls. Operators are placed around the room in such a way as to maximise their view of the paper maps, push-pins and various objects stuck onto the board to show the state of the system. Just as the first printed books were designed to look like the parchments they replaced, so a “traditional” digital distribution management system is basically a map-board on a digital screen. The operators don’t have to walk around a room any more to get an overall view of the network, but they do have to consult several screens and rely on a relatively limited amount of data to make critical real-time decisions.
All that has changed with the new generation of smart distribution control rooms and the introduction of integrated distribution management systems. Alstom Grid’s Network Management Solutions Activity Director IDMS, Dr Avnaesh Jayantilal, is enthusiastic about the possibilities the new technologies will bring to utilities. “Our IDMS is based on our core
e-terradistribution technology and has positive impacts at every level, from enhanced situational awareness, improved reactivity and enhanced safety in the field to improved reliability and operational optimisation.” And all that is on “a single pane of glass” providing a comprehensive supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system, distribution management system (DMS) and outage management system (OMS).
The IDMS is made up of a number of modules. The network analysis module is based on a robust distribution network power flow that supports a fully unbalanced model for both radial and meshed medium/low voltage networks. It analyses distribution power flow, distribution state estimation, power quality, losses, short circuits and load modelling. This allows dispatchers and planning engineers to study the current and future state of the network.
Integrated Distribution Management System
The network optimiser module provides an enhanced level of analysis allowing the dispatcher to optimise the network configuration and achieve one or more predefined objectives: for example, keeping nodal voltages and branch currents inside operational limits, maintaining power factor requirements at specific locations in the network, or reducing total demand or losses in the distribution network. It includes load and Volt/VAr optimisation (VVO), fault location, isolation and service restoration (FLISR), planned outage study (POS) and automated feeder reconfiguration (AFR).
The switching operations module interfaces directly to the network models. Switching orders can be created manually or generated automatically by the network optimisation functions. In practice, this clearly allows utilities to optimise system resources, but there are significant benefits in terms of human resources too.
Dr Jayantilal also highlights the possibilities of using these capabilities of the IDMS as a learning tool. “Major storm events seem to be getting more frequent. The IDMS was developed to process high volumes of data to enhance network resiliency and restoration, but it can also simulate a major event. Utilities can prepare their employees and processes for future events, but also analyse data collected during a storm to see how to improve performance.”
The IDMS includes a state of-the-art training simulator that is able to simulate large-scale outages from major storms. The simulation includes field equipment operations, customer calls, power-on/off messages from smart meters, and crew responses.
Dr Jayantilal illustrates what this means for Stedin, which is one of the largest distribution utilities in the Netherlands, providing electricity and gas to over 2 million private, corporate and government customers, and to one of the largest ports in the world, Rotterdam. “Stedin was performing 6,000 switching orders a year, all manual and paper-based, taking about 90 minutes each. IDMS reduced the processing time to 30 minutes. Stedin was able to reassign two full-time employees to other critical duties thanks to the 6,000 hours they saved. And, by the way, the IDMS only took up one of those 30 minutes; the other 29 went to all the processing and approvals.”
Stedin also shows how digital technologies can quickly be adapted to interesting new uses. One of the key benefits of deploying the IDMS is the ability to automatically transfer relevant network and outage information in real time through social media to communicate with customers. Stedin’s experience shows that during an outage, customer satisfaction tends to improve when customers are informed about the cause of the outage and, critically, the expected restoration time. Stedin is planning on sharing a real-time, read-only version of their IDMS with the local safety authorities to help improve coordination during major storms.
For Dr Jayantilal, one of the most interesting benefits is that the IDMS can help utilities avoid having to invest in new capacity just to manage peak load scenarios and network congestion. “With the IDMS, utilities can better manage their medium and low voltage assets in the field and push them harder and closer to their real limits.” The IDMS can also perform automated network self-healing by using the FLISR application to reduce customer outage times.
On a global scale, Dr Jayantilal also sees distributed energy resources (DER) as a major challenge for utilities in the future, and one that Alstom will help utilities meet. DER growth driven by regulatory incentives and sustainability objectives has introduced both technical and commercial challenges for the utilities. On the technical side, the network analysis applications have been enhanced to incorporate complex models for DER including solar-photovoltaic, energy storage, demand response and electric vehicle charging, with new real-time dashboards for operators.
The IDMS is helping utilities all over the world make the most of smart grids. But as Dr Jayantilal says, it’s also helping them reach a goal that hasn’t changed since the first electricity networks were built: “Provide reliable, safe and affordable electricity to their customers.”
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