Hurricane season: how smart- and micro- grids can minimize the damage


By: SGN Staff


By Conway Irwin

Breaking Energy


June 1 marked the start of hurricane season, meaning that utilities and customers in vulnerable areas should be gearing up to manage power outages. Ways of improving the reliability of power generation include providing the utility with more information in less time, and creating generation systems that can operate totally independently of the grid.


Updating the grid

Making the grid smarter cannot physically protect the grid from high winds or trees falling on power lines. But installation and integration of a five-component system can help utilities to bring power back on faster, and in some cases minimize the number of electricity customers affected by an outage, according to John McDonald, Director of Technical Strategy and Policy Development for GE Digital Energy.


"There are five fundamental technologies that utilities should have invested in, or should invest in,” McDonald told Breaking Energy. The technologies - smart meter, two-way communications system, outage management system, geographical information system and distribution management system - work in concert to minimize customer outages and speed resumption of service in the event of an outage, he said.


§  Smart meter: While people familiar with Smart Meters know that it provides detailed usage information, it also features last-gasp communications in case of a power outage. "Smart Meter will talk to the utility and say it’s without power,” McDonald said. "The utility knows exactly which customers are out.”

§  Two-way communications: Enables the Smart Meter to talk to the utility.

§  Outage management system: The OMS keeps track of which customers are without power, and has a network model showing a layout of the grid and how each customer is connected. Information on outages can be relayed to the OMS via Smart Meter, customer calls, or even social media, such as tweets or e-mailed photos.

§  Geographical information system: The GIS entails digitized maps of an entire utility service area, complete with longitudinal and latitudinal locations, all of the utility’s assets - such as power poles - and connectivity, or the nodes of the network. The GIS is the source of the network model that serves the OMS and the distribution management system.

§  Distribution management system: When a disturbance occurs on the grid, the DMS can detect it, isolate the problem area, and then quickly restore power to customers on the healthy parts of the line. While some customers may have to endure an outage, this can reduce the number of customers experiencing sustained outages on the overall system.


Disconnecting from the grid

Another option for protection against hurricane-related outages is establishment of a microgrid - a system that can generate power independently of a utility in event of a power loss.

There are four components of a microgrid, Tom Glennon, Director of Engineering for Honeywell Building Solutions, told Breaking Media.

§  Local power generation: The microgrid must have the capacity to produce its own electricity within the defined area. "That generation can come from a lot of different sources - wind, solar, diesel, natural gas,” said Glennon.

§  Load management system: Within a microgrid, operators must be able to manage and control power loads, ensuring that flipping one switch does not result in an overload that shuts down the entire system.

§  Co-existence with the utility: A campus or other defined microgrid area may get all its power from a utility, may need to supply all its own generation needs, and at times, could even put available power back into the grid.

§  Island capability: A microgrid must have the ability to supply its own power needs totally independent of the utility.