Utilities are struggling to manage distributed energy resources’ (DER) increased integration into the grid and face growing pressure to keep down costs and optimize assets, while at the same time improving and maintaining power quality and service continuity. Smart technologies are being introduced to medium voltage substations to combat these challenges. Substations are prime candidates for the innovative smart capabilities that are becoming a crucial element of smart grids because substations play a central role in electrical power distribution systems.
In this two-part blog series, we’ll take a look at six challenges utilities face and how introducing smart technology into medium voltage substations can help.
Optimize assets and manage remotely
Utilities are pressed to reduce their capital and operational expenditures. This means they must optimize assets, more efficiently manage them, extend their life spans and reduce operation and management costs.
Smart technology plays a key role in meeting these objectives. Utilities can incorporate technology that sends and receives data, like sensors, into the electrical network to gather information. This data is then analyzed using predictive analytics to monitor assets’ performance. A substation can use this data to improve asset management efficiency by providing real-time information on the assets’ conditions and increases reliability by directing smarter maintenance strategies to maximize maintenance programs and reduce unscheduled downtime.
Improve smart meter return on investment
Smart meters are an enormous investment for utilities — there will be an estimated 800 million smart meters deployed worldwide by 2020. The upside is their ability to empower consumers and improve their energy usage. The downside is that some utilities have yet to reap the financial benefits.
Utilities can see greater returns by leveraging smart meter data to optimize their distribution networks with smart meters that communicate through power line carrier (PLC) technology, which allows utilities to add value to the assets currently in place. All connected smart meters communicate through the substation they are attached to, making medium voltage substations a critical point of a PLS-based smart meter measurement agreement.
Improve quality of service
Utilities are being tasked with improving their quality of service. One of the most critical elements of quality of service is minimizing customers’ interruption time. Even short interruptions are inconvenient, disruptive, costly, and potentially damaging and dangerous.
The location of the distribution grid is a primary factor in quality of service because underground distribution grids typically have fewer interruptions and better performance than overhead grids, which are vulnerable to vegetation and storms. Because it is not always technically or economically feasible to move overhead lines underground, utilities can focus on smart technologies that can reduce the difference in performance between overhead and underground grids. For example, adding smart reclosers in distribution network feeders where transient self-cleaning faults frequently occur can reduce outages, allow for rapid recovery, decrease the number of end users affected by an outage, and reduce the amount of non-produced energy and non-distributed energy.
Smart fault passage indicators (FPI) enable an operator to use real-time, accurate information related to faults occurring on the medium voltage grid by checking the status of each FPI remotely. It offers ways for the utilities to increase quality of service for a maximum of grid users, especially when switches are remote controllable. It also enables grid operators to optimize maintenance activities if it is necessary for field crews to fix on the site. The FPI also allows for faster diagnoses of issues and has the ability to warn connected distributed generation sources of the feeder status to avoid islanding the grid.
To learn more about smart medium voltage substations, download our new white paper “Transitioning to Smart Medium Voltage Substations as the Cornerstone of Your Smart Grid.”