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The blind spot in your grid (and how to fix it cheaply)

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By: SGN Staff

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We're almost there. We almost have enough raw data to truly understand what's going on in our distribution networks. But a crucial blind spot still remains – namely, what's happening at all those distribution transformers scattered throughout the network.

 

While we've been focusing on smart meters and substation automation, transformer monitoring has been quietly undergoing a revolution. Costs have plunged while capabilities have skyrocketed. It's now cost-efficient to install monitors on key transformers, especially when you consider all the value streams that result (see below for a summary).

 

It's a revolution that has been underreported and underappreciated, as I was reminded when I met Alan Snook of GRID20/20 at the Smart Cities Council. Alan says distribution transformer monitoring (DTM) will be the smart grid's next exponential gain. And that the DTM acronym will soon be as important as SCADA and AMI.

 

I asked him to swing by and make his case. Use the Comment form to agree or disagree. - By Jesse Berst

 

By Alan Snook

 

The pursuit of a "smart" grid has been underway for years.  Scores of articles have been written in support, and many in opposition.  Regardless of anyone’s position on the smart grid, it is hard to challenge the fact that nearly everyone in the civilized world desires electricity; and once they have it, they want their service to be better, more robust, more consistent and more reliable…in fact, they expect it.  Electricity is a staple service, and it is clearly one of the most important infrastructure elements required for advancing any society. 

 

Most efforts to modernize grids have been focused on substation improvements, and advanced metering infrastructure (AMI).  This approach has provided utilities with enhanced controls and data availability at two "endpoints" within their distribution space.  In this fashion, utilities have made strides in their quest to create a smart grid.

 

But we still have a blind spot

Even though substation control platforms have been rolled out and the AMI market has matured in North America, many utilities find themselves with a grid that is still not truly "smart." They have some smart features, but a fully modernized grid remains in the distance.  Clearly, the smart grid is an ongoing evolution.

 

One problem: A blind spot still exists within the most expansive segment of the electrical grid; the distribution network.   At present, there is almost no information coming from within the vast, complex distribution network.  And algorithms alone cannot close this gaping hole. We need data for those algorithms to analyze.

 

Enter the DTM

The Distribution Transformer Monitor/Meter (i.e., DTM) is a future-proofed sensor device that is attached directly to distribution transformer assets.   Each DTM extracts key data sets (e.g., energy, current, voltage, etc…) from transformers, then autonomously moves the data via various communications platforms to a centralized point (e.g., SCADA, MDM, Collection Engine, Headend Repository) for analysis and action. 

 

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