Smart Grid 101 - How the smart grid is changing system operations


By: SGN Staff


Author, trainer and smart grid pioneer Mani Vadari is back to explain how the smart grid is changing the traditional roles played by system operators. - Jesse Berst


By Dr. Subramanian "Mani" Vadari


The smart grid is driving change on the utility side that is largely invisible to the average customer.  On the transmission and distribution side, sensors and digital relays are being installed on power lines to enable utilities to operate systems with greater efficiency and reliability. "Traditional" SCADA systems, for example, typically provide data every 2-4 seconds. Now phasor measurement units (PMUs) are being added that sample voltage, current and other variables many times per second. This gives utilities operators a far more accurate view of the grid's health. They can act as an early warning system to help halt or prevent power surges before they develop into massive blackouts.


Other sensors and controls are being added to provide more visibility into the flow of energy, such as IVVC (Integrated Volt-VAR Control) controllers and reclosers. These digital sensors and remote controls will make the grid smarter, greener and more efficient. This new and modern grid will be far more responsive, interactive and transparent than today’s grid. It will also be able to cope with the changes on the way -- integrating new sources of renewable power, supporting the charging of electric vehicles, providing information to consumers about their usage and allowing utilities to monitor and control their networks more effectively.


Other smart grid technologies are more visible to the customer. For instance, smart meters track electricity use in real-time and can transmit that information back to the power company. Smart meters have been used by commercial and industrial customers for decades, but in recent years are slowly becoming cheaper to support deployment to residential customers as well.

So what does this all mean to the system operator?

The smart grid changes everything for the system operator. The magnitude of change is very similar to the types of changes that happened during deregulation.  Some of the key changes are

•       More automated processes supported by trained people.

•       Improved sensors which can instantly observe the state of the grid and transmit the information to different locations.

•       Given the plethora of sensors and controls, there will be a paradigm shift from a centralized command and control mechanism to an advanced network of integrated systems both centralized and distributed which can make intelligent decisions.

•       At the transmission level, the advent of PMUs is bringing in new tools which provide far more information to the system operator both at the predictive and at the reactive level.  It is anticipated that transmission will still stay centralized.

•       Distribution system operations will move from a paper and pin version of system control to more formal command and control centers using systems called DMS, OMS, SCADA, GIS and others.  It is anticipated that distribution will convert itself into a combination of centralized and distributed control mechanism.

•       The system operator needs to move from dispatching a centralized set of controllable generators to a combination of centralized and locally distributed generation sources some of which are controllable and some of which (like wind and solar) are not.

•       Adding a whole new dimension of cyber security and privacy to operations.  Cyber security is getting a whole new look. For the first time, utilities are looking at large-scale use of public networks (such as cellular networks) to communicate with their smart sensors and devices.  Cyber security standards are being developed and should become normal and accepted in the near future.

•       Similar to the focus on cyber security, privacy is becoming an issue. This stems primarily from demand response programs that allow the utility (or other entities like aggregators) to control loads inside the premise.  Privacy advocates are demanding increased levels of attention on the use and wide-spread availability of personally identifiable information (PII) and are working on developing standards for them as well.


These changes will breathe a tremendous amount of new life into electric system operations and make the operators more capable of making better decisions faster, better and cheaper.


This article was adapted by permission from Electric System Operations: Evolving to the Modern Grid (Artech House, 2012).


Dr. Subramanian "Mani" Vadari is the President of Modern Grid Solutions, a consultancy that provides specialized training and management/technical consulting to utilities and their service providers. Dr. Vadari’s Smart Grid Training is extensively used to train and educate the executives and management of the new smart grid workforce.  Dr. Vadari was also recently named as a 2012 Smart Grid Pioneer by Smart Grid Today.


More from the Smart Grid 101 series ...

The key drivers of a smart grid

Understanding system operations

Understanding the key players