The DOE's Smart Grid snapshot

From cybersecurity to networking challenges US Dept. of Energy takes a snapshot of electric utilities


While the benefits of moving the current antiquated electric grid into the future are many, there are a number of challenges still dogging the effort.

Chief among them is cybersecurity but getting the country’s utility community onboard without costing them an arm and a leg is another.

Such issues were apparent in the Department of Energy’s recent report to Congress on the status of the smart grid effort.

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The 35-page report detailed a number of issues that we will highlight here:

  •      Advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), which comprises smart meters, communication networks, and information management systems, is enhancing the operational efficiency of utilities and providing electricity customers with information to more effectively manage their energy use. An estimated 65 million smart meters will be installed nationwide by 2015, accounting for more than a third of electricity customers.
  •     About 46 million smart meters are in place in the United States today (IEE 2013).
  •     145 million U.S. meters (of all types) in use today. ARRA projected deployments will contribute more than16 million smart meters when they are complete in 2015.
  • Nearly 75% of AMI installations to date have occurred in only 10 states and D.C., where on average more than 50% of customers now have smart meters. AMI investments have been driven largely by state legislative and regulatory requirements for AMI, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 ARRA funding, and by specific cost recovery mechanisms in certain regions. AMI requires significant investment, and adoption barriers remain for utilities where the business case for AMI is not clear and where prior investments in older metering technology (such as automated meter reading) may present costs.
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  •      Customer-based technologies, such as programmable communicating thermostats for residential customers and building energy management systems for commercial and industrial customers work with smart meters to make energy usage data accessible   and useful to customers.
  •      The integration of sensing, communications, and control technologies with field devices in distribution systems is improving reliability and efficiency.
  •      Smart grid applications let utilities automatically locate and isolate faults to reduce outages, dynamically optimize voltage and reactive power levels for more efficient power use, and monitor asset health to guide maintenance.
  •      For example the City of Chattanooga was able to instantly restore power to half of the residents affected by a severe windstorm on July 5, 2012 (from 80,000 affected customers to less than 40,000 within 2 seconds) using automated feeder switching.
  •      The deployment of advanced sensors and high-speed communications networks on transmission systems is advancing the ability to monitor and control operations at high -voltage substations and across the transmission grid. For example, synchrophasor technology (which uses devices called phasor measurement units (PMUs) to measure the instantaneous voltage, current, and frequency at substations) provides data 100 times faster than conventional technology from the placement of PMUs throughout the transmission grid and permits grid operators to identify and correct for system instabilities, such as frequency and voltage oscillations, and operate transmission lines at greater capacities.
  •      The ARRA projects include a total public-private investment of about $330 million that will increase U.S. synchrophasor coverage from 166 networked PMUs in 2009 to more than 1,000 networked PMUs deployed by the 2014-2015 time frame.
  •      While some utilities implement private communications networks, lower costs and increased technical support are causing public networks to gain momentum for utilities. Recently, public cellular carriers have lowered the per-megabyte cost of AMI communications, making wireless broadband technology (e.g., 2G/3G and 4G LTE networks) more popular with utilities. However, certain applications, such as feeder switches and synchrophasors, require higher speeds than what cellular networks can offer.
  •      To meet the high-speed, high-security communication needs of its utilities, the Western Electricity Coordinating Council is using a secure, fiber-optic, wide-area network that sends PMU data in less than 30 milliseconds to grid control center.
  • Advanced technologies with built-in cybersecurity functions are now being developed and deployed=across the grid. For example, research funded by DOE has led to advancements insecure, interoperable network designs, which have been incorporated into several products, including a secure Ethernet data communications gateway for substations, a cybersecurity gateway (Padlock) that detects physical and cybersecurity tampering in field devices, and an information exchange protocol (SIEGate) that provides cybersecurity protections for information sent over synchrophasor networks on transmission systems.
  • The rate of smart grid technology adoption varies across the nation and depends largely on state policies, regulatory incentives, and technology experience levels within utilities. It will take time to adequately assess and validate the costs and benefits of the technology for utilities, their customers, and society. Improved efficiencies in operations and energy use and in reliability are already being realized where smart grid technology is deployed. Hence, sharing effective deployment practices and methods for valuation across the industry and government jurisdictions will remain an important task.
  •      The IT and communications infrastructure that support smart grid devices creates capabilities, costs, and integration challenges that are largely new to utilities, and difficult to value.
  •      Disruptive challenges are on the horizon as the amount of grid-connected renewable and distributed energy increases, requiring an increasingly intelligent, sophisticated grid. However, interoperability and system integration challenges will persist as utilities regularly deploy new information management and control systems. Technology costs and benefits are still being determined and will continue to constrain decisions for deployment.

 The DOE wasn’t the only group examining the smart grid last week. According to a new report from Navigant Research, cumulative worldwide spending on smart grid technologies will total $594 billion from 2014 through 2023.

 “The benefits of smart grid technology are becoming increasingly measurable, in terms of both economic benefits and improved grid reliability,” said Richelle Elberg, senior research analyst with Navigant Research in a statement.  “Government mandates and growing challenges to grid stability, such as aging infrastructure, electric vehicle charging, and distributed generation, are contributing to increased spending on everything from smart metering systems in the field to new IT systems in the operations center.”

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