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Making Utility Infrastructure Operations More Efficient

By Olsen, Paul 28. December 2017

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Since the building of the electrical grid, the ways we produce, distribute, and consume energy have undergone massive changes. Still, our distribution grids are old, and our infrastructure is aging. Today’s digital revolution of the energy sector presents new opportunities for utilities to take advantage of existing infrastructure in more efficient ways.

Download for free: Next Gen Utility Infrastructure Operation 

According to Greentech Media, 70 percent of US grid transmission lines and power transformers are more than 25 years old. The average power plant is more than 30 years old. Since its conception, the grid has undergone few significant improvements.

Aging Infrastructure - Unnecessary Capital Expenditure

Aging infrastructure presents certain challenges for utilities, particularly when it comes to gaining the necessary overview of the grid. Here in Norway, for instance, utilities have relied mainly on monthly meter readings to assess how much energy has been used under a certain transformer. 

For many, this lack of overview has manifested in unnecessary grid investments. One particularly striking example is a Norwegian utility I recently spoke with. Their traditional theoretical calculations revealed that ten transformers were in need of replacement due to overload. The transformers were replaced, instrumented with sensor technology, and real-time data collection began. Subsequent calculations based on actual transformer data revealed striking findings: seven of the ten replaced transformers weren’t in need of replacement.

Read also our guide to efficient power grid operations for the digital age. 

AMI Data: A Goldmine for Utilities

As the above example shows, there is considerable savings potential in gaining an accurate overview of the grid. The large-scale deployment of Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) now makes this possible.

Combined with an increasing use of sensor technology and devices in the grid, AMI provides utilities with access to detailed information about the state of their infrastructure. Armed with this insight, utilities can reduce operational expenditure, reduce the need for grid reinforcements, and improve delivery quality by cutting blackout response times.

A shining example of the latter is the Norwegian grid operator Norgesnett. By effectively utilizing AMI-data, installing grid sensors, and deploying a system platform capable of analyzing vast amounts of data, they can now react more rapidly and more efficiently in the case of a power outage – as this video vividly portrays.

AMI can undoubtedly become an invaluable source of information and insight for utility infrastructure operations.

To unlock the full potential of AMI you need to take advantage of the data the smart meters generate, in combination with data from your utility’s other business systems. As most utilities, however, are traditionally organized in silos according to functional areas, unlocking AMI potential is challenging, but a challenge that can be overcome.

Also read: Why AI and Machine Learning are Essential for Next Gen Utilities

Tear Down Your Silos!

The Norwegian utility Ringeriks-Kraft is one telling example. Like most other utilities, they’ve regularly struggled with having different business systems in their day-to-day operations. Each system contains essential data, but the possibility of extracting data across various systems without turning to manual processes makes it difficult, if not impossible, to gain adequate grid insight. To solve these problems, Ringeriks-Kraft took advantage of a system platform that could be integrated across all silos. The result were more precise calculations on the company’s substation level which led to a reduction in expenses by between two and four million NOK each year.

Tearing down the silos between operational technology (OT), such as SCADA and DMS, on the one hand, and informational technology (IT), such as customer information systems (CIS) and AMI, on the other, allows for data sharing capabilities that not only improve your overall system capabilities but also reduces costs and improves customer satisfaction. Not at least, it allows for a far more efficient utilization of existing infrastructure.

Progressive utilities that understand that the time has come to harvest the full fruits of digitalized infrastructure are taking action now. A new world of efficiency is waiting.

Download for free: Next Gen Utility Infrastructure Operation 

Olsen, Paul's photo

By: Olsen, Paul

Paul has a degree in Electric Power Engineering, and holds a M.Sc. in IT, Project and International Management from BI Norwegian Business school. Paul has over 15 years of experience, both from Norway and internationally, in IT operations and Management of critical infrastructure for large enterprises in electricity, mobile and the defense industry. Paul was eSmart Systems’ Product Specialist - Utility until July 2018.

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