Ten questions on digital grid management

EnergyCentral article by Gary Rackliffe, VP of Smart Grids at ABB

In October I hosted a webinar on distribution grid management that focused on some of the challenges, trends and technologies facing the utility industry, in particular the growth of renewables and the digitalization of distribution grid operations. Following are some of the questions that came up during and after the session, along with brief responses.

1 . Will ADMS become more distributed in the future, or will these systems remain centralized?

Generally, ADMS – Advanced Distribution Management Systems – are centralized and combine distribution management systems for control room operations, outage management, SCADA, distributed energy resource management, and advanced applications such as automated switching and volt/var optimization. ADMS systems are also integrated with customer information systems, geographic information systems, advanced metering systems, communications, and mobile workforce management systems. Some functions, such automated switching and volt/var control, can be performed at the grid edge and the status change updates communicated to the central operations. There may be other opportunities to automate certain grid functions via ADMS, but I expect most of the things a distribution management system does will continue to be managed in a centralized control room environment.

2. Islanded operation of microgrids is quite challenging when compared to grid connect mode—what is the best way to manage voltage levels and maintain reliability?

Operating a microgrid in an islanded mode does create challenges in managing voltage and frequency for the microgrid, particularly if operating with 100% renewable generation. ABB controls for battery energy storage systems or flywheel energy storage systems enable the storage systems to be the grid-forming devices for islanded microgrid operations. When installed as part of a microgrid that can be islanded when there is a grid disturbance, DERs can improve reliability for critical loads or remote locations.   

3. What is the outlook for storage with regard to its role in microgrids and as an enabler for renewables?

A key driver to answering this question is regulatory policy. Utilities will not invest in grid resources unless there is clear cost recovery and return on investment, which in turn must be justified by the improved grid reliability and resilience. DER developers will invest in microgrids and storage behind the point of grid interconnection to complement renewable resources, comply with grid codes, provide capacity firming, and shift generation to align with peak demand.  There are operational challenges, too, of course. Storage de-couples generation from demand and increases the flexibility of the grid, but it increases the complexity of grid management because the storage system has to be modeled and controlled like any other resource. Storage is different, of course in that it can operate as either generation or a load. Also, customers might operate behind-the-meter storage resources in a manner that supports their interests but not necessarily utility operations. For this reason, energy storage works best as part of a microgrid.

4. How will deep learning impact the utilities?  

Deep learning is an application of artificial intelligence and a subset of machine learning. It refers to neural networks with more than one hidden layer. More layers allow for the neural network to fit more complex functions. For example, utility load forecasting has been based on neural networks for some time, but distributed energy resources are making the forecasting more complex. Future distribution grids will have connected renewables, EV charging, and energy storage. AI can use second-generation neural networks to predict generation and demand based on historical energy data, weather data, date-time aspects, and other factors.

5. What exactly is the difference between ADMS and DERMS?    

An Advanced Distribution Management System (ADMS) combines distribution management system functions for control room operations, storm response and outage management, SCADA, distributed energy resource management, and advanced applications such as automated switching and volt/var optimization. A Distributed Energy Resource Management System (DERMS) addresses grid operations with DERs including control of smart inverters, volt/var optimization, and protection and control. DERMS also manage the virtual power plant (VPP) functions of registration, forecasting, aggregation, dispatch, and settlement for services provided by DERs. This could involve utilities or third party aggregators. A full-function DERMS is best deployed as an integrated part of an ADMS to leverage the network model and power flow in the ADMS to validate DER dispatch schedules.

Read the last 5 questions and answers on EnergyCentral.com

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