Power Utilities Should Automate To Meet Smart City Initiatives

As cities move to make their Smart City projects a reality, one of the things that needs to be taken care of is how the utilities especially energy distribution companies handle their back end infrastructure. As the power usage and requirements change within the city with the increasing use of alternate power sources and various connected devices, the power and energy utility services are under tremendous pressure to keep up with this change. In fact market research shows that the power utilities worldwide are facing the problems of aging infrastructures and transmission losses. These utilities also have the burden of meeting the increasing consumer expectations and regulatory policies of the governments.

According to research firm, Transparency Market Research (TMR), the legacy systems and infrastructure that the Utility companies have are not suitable for adapting to sustainable energy and smart grid technology. “In some of the developing countries of Asian region and Latin America, the transmission loses are more than 15%. With increasing population and energy demand, the above factors have resulted in decreased efficiency for power utilities. However the governments are advising the utility owners to shift focus on automation to meet the challenges faced by energy sector,” states the report.

The utility automation includes various technologies through which the transmission systems are made capable to meet the emerging market demands. It ensures reliable transmission, prompt customer service, and efficient controlling techniques. In fact, the global market is just gearing up for the change. According to Frost & Sullivan Power Generation Report 2016, developed markets will be moving to second level of automation while region like APAC and Africa will be moving to first level of utility automation as they take up smart city projects. Explaining this Frost & Sullivan Energy & Environment Industry Analyst Rajalingam AC said, “While the developed markets will focus on advanced substation automation solutions with interoperability features, emerging countries in Asia-Pacific and Africa will shift from basic to mid-tier automation solutions. Increasingly, vendors in the smart grid space are offering highly interoperable, modular systems to minimize the integration complexity in the substation.”

The new automation solutions

The automation will also facilitate better customer service, security enhancement, utility asset management and two way communication. Taking this as an opportunity Oracle has launched its Network Management System 2.3, an expanded network management platform that enables utilities to make the transition to a customer-centric grid. The new solution will enable the operators real-time visibility across all grid and pipeline assets and eliminating the complexities of siloed data and applications.

Talking about the need for such a solution Rodger Smith, senior Vice President and general manager, Oracle Utilities said, “Utilities are facing major shifts in their operations caused by a rapid increase in distributed energy resources (DERs) such as solar PVs, storage systems, electric vehicles and connected home devices. These new energy sources and increased monitoring of aging pipelines are creating even more data silos than ever before, making a seamless transition to a customer-centric grid extremely challenging. So Oracle Utilities Network Management System 2.3 now enables utilities to aggregate data from various network assets into a single interface with more detailed visibility into network operations.”

The enhanced system from Oracle gives utility operators the visibility they need to respond to changing network conditions—whether that’s a flurry of new electric vehicles in a neighborhood and the need to resize transformers, or responding faster during a large storm outage or gas leak. So now the utilities will have network asset data—two-way distributed energy resource (DER) data, advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) data, distribution management system (DMS) data and outage management system (OMS) data—all in a single interface for more meaningful analysis and decision making. “The most successful utilities will embrace the emergence of a customer-centric network, and have a strategic vision of how technology can support it. In the first transitional phase, utilities built billions of dollars of infrastructure over several decades. Then with the advent of sensors and SCADA, we got better data and point-in-time visibility. Now we are in an age of predictive analytics, multiple new data streams from edge devices, and more complex real-time switching. We view our NMS solution as a platform that manages all aspects of the grid—from the customer’s living room to the utility back office,” added Oracle’s Smith.

Similarly, Nokia is targeting the utilities grid deployments with its purpose-built LTE/3G wireless routers. It is aimed at modernizing distribution networks for utilities. This newest addition to the Nokia Service Routing portfolio merges IP/MPLS and LTE/3G technologies to provide utilities state-of-the-art wireless communications for grid devices located deep in a highly scalable distribution network. Talking about need for utility modernization, Sri Reddy, head of IP/Optical Networks at Nokia, said, “Power utilities are in the midst of a significant transformation as they gear up to meet new market forces, green environmental regulations and disruptive energy technologies. Grid reliability, power quality and automation are all key areas that will require improved field area networks. We are excited to offer our utilities customers a wireless way to extend the proven, secure and reliable IP/MPLS services of our service router portfolio. This will not only allow them to modernize their field area operations with more automation and monitoring for improved grid reliability and power quality, it will position them well to meet tomorrow’s challenges and opportunities.”

Real automation is still to happen

Even though new automation technologies are being made available to the utilities, the Frost & Sullivan report shows that the conservative utility sector is still reluctant to invest large amounts of money in automation projects. This is mainly due to the large installed base of legacy systems, particularly of supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) and energy management systems (EMS).

However, TMR report also suggests that while established players in developing countries might be reluctant to adopt automation technologies, the developing countries like India offer a lucrative market for the Utilities Automation and Network Management solution providers. “These regions have the major demand of power and the least efficient network. These factors will aid in the demand of automation and penetration will be easier in developing markets. However the huge initial investment may act as a hindrance to the market growth. Additionally there are very few vendors in the market providing integrated services. Thus to achieve substantial growth, the companies should focus on setting benchmarks and integrated solutions for the utilities,” the TMR report stated.

There is one thing though that can can drive automation among the utilities across the countries; it is the adoption of 5G, the next generation of mobile technology. “The rise of 5G as the next generation of mobile technology for smart grid connectivity will prompt utilities to deploy 5G systems. Already, major countries have initiated plans to identify the specifications needed for the successful commercialization of 5G,” noted Rajalingam.

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