While an interconnected grid has led to several benefits, it has also resulted in a number of complexities that did not exist in traditional girds. Centralised and distributed power generation, intermittent renewable power generation and bidirectional power flows are some of the challenges of an interconnected grid that need to be addressed through information technology (IT) and operations technology (OT).
A distribution management system (DMS) is a collection of applications that monitor and control the entire distribution network efficiently and reliably. It acts as a decision support system to assist the control room and field personnel in monitoring and controlling the power distribution system. Advanced distribution management systems combine DMS, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) and outage management system (OMS) functionalities.
Outage management system
OMS is a computer system used by electric distribution systems operators to assist in the restoration of power. OMS anticipates and responds with greater agility to system outages to decrease the frequency and cost of interruptions. It provides accurate information on the extent of outages and the number of customers affected. The system reduces the number of outages through higher predictive maintenance and fewer asset failures. OMS is most helpful when there are many scattered outages. It quickly predicts the number of individual outage locations, the extent of each outage and the scope of the restoration effort as a whole. With much larger amounts of data being available through modern smart grid technologies, today’s OMSs are becoming more complex and robust, incorporating more features to prevent outages and restore power more efficiently.
SCADA applications support the crucial operations of monitoring, recording and reporting network events while enabling the remote control of field equipment. The key objective of SCADA implementation along with DMS is to improve the reliability and efficiency of network operations and power supply. The use of real-time data also permits the optimisation of the capital expenditure necessary for meeting the growing needs of the electric distribution system.
There are three key components of a SCADA system: host equipment, communications infrastructure and field devices. In the context of distribution networks, the host equipment installed at the control centres typically includes SCADA servers, network-based communication front-end nodes, user interfaces, relational databases, data servers and web servers. Field devices are installed at substations and at select locations along the distribution line. These multi-featured installations provide specific functionalities, support system operations, enable fault detection, capture planning data and record power quality information.
SCADA systems are crucial for improving and maintaining utility performance as they enable real-time data-based network management, help in implementing more efficient control paradigms, improve network safety and reduce operation costs.
IT-OT convergence in distribution
One of the key changes that utilities are currently experiencing is the convergence of IT and OT, which have traditionally occupied separate silos. OT represents a broad category of components that utilities depend on for ensuring safe and reliable generation and delivery of energy. IT, on the other hand, is typically associated with back-end functions that support business processes like billing, revenue collection, analytics, asset tracking and maintaining customer information.
Utilities can capitalise on operational efficiency savings by seamlessly integrating data from OT systems with their back-end IT systems to improve customer relationships, achieve cost savings, offer new services and manage internal changes within the organisation. Driving the convergence of IT and OT is the need to integrate new types of assets into the network and make them operation-ready, taking into consideration all the complexities of operating interconnected electric systems. Further, there is a need to manage very large quantities of data from new devices and sensors spread throughout the power networks, metering devices and home area networks in near-real time. Shared standards and platforms across IT and OT can enable utilities to reduce costs across the software management landscape, including enterprise architecture, support and security models, software configuration practices, and information and process integration.
Driven by needs like monitoring of energy consumption, tamper detection, reduction of aggregate technical and commercial losses, prepayment options, demand forecasting, time-of-day tariffs, outage management, and renewable energy integration, discoms have increasingly been deploying IT solutions and automating networks over the years. However, some of the key challenges they face pertain to platform integration, vendor support, financials risks, organisation transition and equipment availability.
Based on a presentation by Vijayan S.R., Assistant Vice President, Technology and Business Development, ABB Limited, at a Power Line conference