The Pathway to Revolutionize the Energy Industry

The Pathway to Revolutionize the Energy Industry

By Kevin Sullivan, CEO, Advanced Control Systems (ACS)

Kevin Sullivan, CEO, Advanced Control Systems (ACS)

The energy industry is undergoing a significant transformation as it deals with the changes in fuel sources, grid configuration, and consumer needs. The proliferation of Distributed Energy Resources (DER) along with a much harsher environment due to climate change further compounds the situation. The new innovative frontier in energy is now at the outer fringes of the grid. Indeed the renewable energy sources have added to the challenge as they inject variable energy at various points along the grid, from mid-grid, distribution, and consumption. Executives of leading organizations face numerous challenges in keeping their customers satisfied - along with an increasingly competitive marketplace, they must address extreme weather conditions, new and disruptive technologies, aging infrastructure, big data, system security, and resiliency requirements. Consumers have increased their need for improved reliability and faster outage restoration, while insisting on better environmental stewardship.  

• This has prompted the need to strengthen the grid while enabling the transmission of renewable energy to  the load locations. 

• The variable load and distributed generation has made the real-time balancing of energy more challenging for independent system operators (ISOs) and network operators (TNOs) can no longer rely only on primary response like frequency. 

• Transmission and distribution networks are technically coupled and now the wholesale energy and retail energy markets have become integrated with services like demand response and storage. 

• Optimizing the current assets in real time becomes the best strategy to gain operational efficiencies. 

• New technologies are often perceived as “disruptive” to the distribution utility, however the growth and innovation in battery storage is now becoming a viable way of managing the variability, improving reliability, and power quality. Our control areas now focus on distribution feeders and local controls – some are calling this development “self-healing micro grids”. 

• Large-scale renewable sources present unique grid challenges as these assets typically integrate to the grid via inverter-based technology, which reduces the overall grid inertia. However, the advantage of these inverters, if controlled correctly, can be instrumental  in effect grid management and power quality. 

In order to address industry challenges, the key is to deploy appropriate technology that can ensure that the reliability and the quality of energy delivery is sustainable well into the future. From an executive’s perspective, it is essential to incorporate the following three aspects into a long-range technology investment plan. 

1. There needs to be a base technology platform that can handle the flood of data in real-time and allow the operations to focus on planning and forecasting while the technology is performing the control actions needed that human intervention cannot achieve. Greater investment is required in building and maintaining an advanced real-time integrated platform. Electricity is delivered at near light speed and requires a near real-time response and control capability to manage the delivery. This platform must evolve organically and be capable of absorbing new innovative technology as the industry reinvents itself. This will ensure that energy management decisions that need to take place occur in real-time.   
As the edges of our grid change and the deployment of disruptive technologies such as distributed energy resources (DER) proliferate, these assets must seamlessly integrate into the control platform and become controlled in real-time, ensuring that the technology addresses current and future grid operational challenges.  

2. In order to manage current and future  grids, advanced applications must be capable enough to adapt rapidly to a continuously evolving environment, with ever-increasing disruptive events (extreme weather and forced outages). A single, common network model spanning transmission and distribution will enable advanced applications to work in concert with operators to optimize grid efficiency. The ability to manage real-time events and effectively adapt and restore while maintaining grid stability is of paramount importance to the industry. 

3. Now more than ever, technology is allowing direct, personal engagement of the consumer. Not only does this enable more informed decisions on the part of the consumer regarding energy usage, but also allows the utility to leverage grid-edge information to further enhance the overall efficiency of the network. This personal engagement optimizes use of existing assets while minimizing the environmental impact of the distributed resources. Leveraging environmentally responsible behavior through the human connection will transform the way we view and interact with the grid. 

We believe at ACS that energy is foundational to our civilization and our utility customers trust us as the go-to real-time energy management solution provider of innovative products and services. For example, our advanced application of Fault Detection Isolation and Restoration (FDIR) technology is deployed at a number of large utilities. During the February 2014 ice storm in Atlanta, a Georgia utility documented that this innovative smart grid self-healing technology they had installed on 220 feeders resulted in over five million customer minutes saved during the storm period. The smart grid technology automatically detected faults, isolated them, and adroitly produced a switch plan to restore power within seconds. This application generated a switching solution that automatically restored service to the upstream and downstream sections of the un-faulted feeder sections. 

"Consumers have increased their need for improved reliability and faster outage restoration, while insisting on better environmental stewardship"  

Energy providers should see their control center as the brain, allowing intelligent control to increase customer satisfaction and improve reliability with outage restoration while meeting business demands of asset optimization. To support todays’ energy requirements, utility executives need to manage this complex landscape while optimizing assets. At ACS, we partner with the utility to develop a strategic technology roadmap to help them address more efficient energy delivery, faster response to events, improved safety measures and greater reliability, while improving consumer engagement with more effective communications. It is important to understand that utilities now have far greater access to real-time usage data. This data, along with active engagement by the consumer, can enable the utility to better manage the balance of supply with demand, empower people to take a more active role in managing their own energy usage,  flatten peak demand, and allow peak shifting.  A smart grid leverages communications to enable the flow of real-time information: between the energy provider and its suppliers and partners, and between the power utility and its Industrial, commercial, and residential customers.  

The energy industry continues to make significant advances and continues to transform itself with the deployment of new technology, products, and services. By far the greatest challenge is finding a balance between  real-time  electricity supply and changing consumer behavior that demands  benefits like power quality and reliability.. With innovative technology, it is finally possible for utilities to alter how people think about energy and how they can  be a part of the “social energy” evolution that is revolutionizing this industry.

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