Smart grid close encounters - the control room and beyond

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Editor's note: Earlier this month SGN Managing Editor Liz Enbysk participated in a smart grid media tour hosted by the Ontario provincial government. With journalists from around the world, she visited utilities, smart grid companies and research labs. This is one of her reports.

 

By Liz Enbysk

SGN Managing Editor

 

We pulled up to the PowerStream head office on the outskirts of Toronto – a classy looking LEED Gold Certified facility. PowerStream is the second largest municipally owned local distribution company in Ontario, with 335,000 electricity customers. Of those, 37,000 are commercial and industrial, 298,000 residential. PowerStream also serves 200,000 water customers.

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"A lot of places around the world talk smart grid," CEO Brian Bentz started off. "We have done it." PowerStream customers all have smart meters and are on mandated time-of-use rates.

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The company is running an EV charging station pilot with Nissan and sees big opportunities with EVs, among them load transfer.

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PowerStream started a solar PV generation business in 2010, leasing rooftop space from owners of commercial buildings. The utility connects the systems to the grid and sells the generated power back to the government. PowerStream also runs a living solar lab on its own rooftop, testing seven different PV panels.

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The utility promotes a number of energy conservation programs, including demand response for large business customers. Its 2012 plans run the gamut, from energy storage to operational data usage.

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The PowerStream view of the smart grid, its executives say, is where technologies and customers connect.

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"It's no good to advance the utility, putting the latest toys or electronics into service," suggests John Mulrooney, PowerStream's Director of Smart Grid Technologies. "We have a mandate that smart grid has to benefit the customer."

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One of PowerStream's partners is Survalent Technology, a Toronto-area company that provides real-time smart grid management systems, including in PowerStream's control room where we watched screens light up and technicians respond to a small outage in a residential area.

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Survalent VP Young Ngo told us his company has over 50 years of experience in the control room and operational environment with SCADA software and an alphabet soup of capabilities – DMS, OMS, SA, DA, DR. Of SCADA-enabled utilities in Ontario, 80% of them are using Survalent solutions. But Survalent, targeting the municipal and cooperative space, has over 400 systems deployed in 23 countries. Some 250 customers are in the U.S., but Ngo says they're currently seeing substantial growth in Latin America.

How familiar does this sound? Dave Watts, communications lead for Hydro One, says 30% of his company's transformers were designed 100 years ago and built 50 years ago.

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"With an aging system," notes Rick Stevens, Hydro One's VP for Asset Management, "replacing 'like for like' is not a prudent investment. The opportunity is to make the incremental investment in modern technology to capture benefits going forward."

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Hence, as Watts puts it, "Hydro One has begun the process of modernizing its distribution system." He says they've had a smart transmission system for years, now they're going down that path with distribution. The objectives include:

·         Analyzing, identifying and deploying applications, equipment and processes that will support optimization of distributed generators into the rural distribution system

·         Improving reliability and operations

·         Optimizing outage restoration and network asset planning

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Wholly owned by the provincial government, Hydro One owns and operates Ontario's 29,000 km high-voltage transmission network that delivers power to large industrial customers and municipal utilities, and a 123,000 km low-voltage distribution system that serves about 1.2 million end-use customers and smaller municipal utilities.

Hydro One serves many of the rural areas in the province; Watts says they cover an area twice the size of Texas with half the population.

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The first leg of Hydro One's distribution initiative is being implemented in the rural Owens Sound area where farms and trees and rocks and renewables are all part of the terrain. The phase one plan includes a Distribution Management System at a control center in one part of the Province (Barrie). In the Owen Sound area the idea is to build out the communications infrastructure, make 21st century upgrades to transformer and distribution stations, deploy intelligent field devices and integrate IT and data remediation.

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WiMAX will be used to create a ubiquitous network; Telvent is building the DMS and the power systems are from GE, which has a significant presence in Canada that includes manufacturing facilities. GE plans to open a new $40 million, 200,000 square foot Grid IQ Innovation Center in Ontario in the near future. IBM Canada is also involved on the Hydro One initiative, assisting with project management and business processes as well as a sub-pilot involving distributed generation analytics.

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Watts calls the advanced distribution system project the next evolution from smart meters. Almost all of the company's 1.2 million residential and small business customers have Trilliant smart meters – and over a million customers have been transitioned to time-of-use pricing. Hydro One just won the Best North American Advanced Metering Infrastructure Project Award announced by GTM Research and Greentech Media.

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And according to Watts, their smart meters haven't had the pushback from customers that a number of utilities in the U.S. have faced. He says Hydro One took a "consultative" approach on the RF emissions issue and on the privacy/security front they invite in a third party to perform an "ethical hack" to look for vulnerabilities in their core systems.

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Meanwhile, the meters themselves go through serious testing in the basement of the Hydro One building before they are deployed.

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