Smart Grid 101: Should distribution automation be your next big focus?


By: SGN Staff


Quick Take: Via anecdotes, surveys and stories, I keep hearing that distribution automation is rising to the top of the priority list amongst electric power utilities. For one thing, it often improves reliability and resiliency, which are top of mind with many policymakers and regulators. For another, it can help with energy efficiency in those jurisdictions with mandates. For another, it doesn't require any behavior change by utility customers. And for yet another, it can take advantage of communications infrastructure and data previously installed for smart metering.- By Jesse Berst


Until recently, distribution automation has been overshadowed by smart metering as the core smart grid issue. Now distribution automation is rising to the fore. A new report from GlobalData defines distribution automation as intelligent devices on distribution and feeder lines to assist with applications. Writing in Electric Light & Power, Scott Zajkowski and Kevin Mays of IUS Technologies define it as remotely monitoring, managing and controlling distribution circuits in real time from the substation to the end of line. "Smart sensors and monitors are key," they write, "and must be deployed throughout each feeder line and work in conjunction with reclosers, automated switches, capacitor banks and voltage regulators."


Typical DA applications include:

·         Remote condition monitoring

·         Fault detection, isolation, and restoration (FDIR)

·         Feeder load balancing

·         Volt/VAR optimization and Conservation Voltage Control (CVR)

·         Advanced distribution management systems (ADMS)


Zajkowski and Mays highlight Volt/VAP optimization and control as key applications. They say utilities can create a lower voltage profile to minimize system losses while lowering customer bills and simultaneously reducing peak demand. Operating the distribution system at a lower voltage allows utilities to meet these new energy conservation regulations.


DA benefits include cost savings, faster outage restoration, improved reliability, and increased energy efficiency. But challenges remain, most notably communications, interoperability and data management.


All utilities will face challenges as energy consumption increases and as distributed generation and electric vehicles further complicate the system, requiring distribution automation to make the rightdecisions in real time.


Jesse Berst is the founder and Chief Analyst of SGN and Chairman of the Smart Cities Council, an industry coalition.


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