• Electric Grid
  • Smart Grid
  • Grid Transmission and Distribution

Filling in the Visibility Gaps for Grid Operators

Michael Kelly
Jun 07, 2022

Guidehouse Insights

Grid operators are facing immense pressure to meet the needs and demands of stakeholders and customers while lowering costs and driving efficiency gains. To meet evolving requirements around reliability, resiliency, distributed energy resources (DER) integration, and more, utilities and grid operators must first understand what is happening in their networks. This may seem second nature, but the reality is that most utilities still don’t have full visibility into their grid networks and lack true end-to-end situational awareness. 

Limitations of Current Solutions

Although some utilities assume that advanced IT and operational technology (OT) systems, along with behind-the-meter devices such as smart meters, should provide requisite visibility for grid operators, emerging constraints (e.g., DER integration) and shifting expectations (e.g., lower customer outage times) have tested the limits of this paradigm. Although existing solutions, such as SCADA and smart metering, provide visibility at the substation level and at the home, there remains a critical gap in situational awareness at the feeder level. To illustrate this point, consider the limitations of current solutions: 

  • OT systems provide limited downstream visibility: Advanced distribution management systems (ADMSs) provide distribution-level visibility for grid operators and are typically used to assist with utility planning and operations. However, ADMSs have their limits, as these systems typically rely on SCADA measurements as the primary source of data ingestion. The number of phenomena monitored is often low, and real-time data availability is confined to the substation. Furthermore, there is typically minimal monitoring at the actual feeder level, particularly across longer power lines. This gap highlights the need for visibility between the substation and end customer, particularly in areas where feeder lengths exceed 10 km or more, for example. ADMSs also have scalability issues given their upstream, substation-level orientation.
  • Smart meters provide limited upstream visibility: The low frequency data capture and limited processing power of first-generation smart meters cannot support real-time measurements or true edge-based analytics, and only a handful of utilities have deployed second-generation devices to date. Less than half of global electricity customers even had a smart meter as of 2021. Furthermore, on-meter analytics architectures rely on location awareness and peer-to-peer communications (with other metering devices) to provide visibility primarily on the customer side of the transformer. At the feeder level, there remains a lack of true situational awareness. 

It’s been established that sensors are needed between the substation and meter, at a minimum, to deliver real-time measurements throughout the entire transmission and distribution (T&D) network. One company making inroads in this space is EGM; the company offers multi-sensing units that are capable of continuously and accurately capturing between 60 and 70 different measurements including accurate voltage measurement without reference at the feeder level. Embedded (i.e., on-device) analytics engines then operate in conjunction with these high resolution data streams to optimize outage detection and reporting—pinpointing the accurate fault location, theft detection (immediate detection and remediation), asset management (targeted APM and proactive maintenance), renewables integration (real-time grid balancing), and more. 

No Excuses for a Lack of Grid Transparency

As grid transparency is no longer stalled by expensive equipment or underdeveloped technology, there are fewer justifiable excuses for utilities to lack a granular snapshot of their T&D grids at any point in time. Traditional methods of measurement and analysis that rely on manual data capture, estimations, re valuations, and historical-based facts are quickly becoming outdated as energy and digital transformations continue to permeate global power grids. This situation is further exacerbated by mounting regulatory and consumer pressures to improve grid reliability, resiliency, and availability. Guidehouse Insights’ Multi-Sensing Platforms Unlock Full Grid Visibility white paper discusses new and advanced T&D sensing and measurement technologies that help to bridge the gap in network visibility for utilities and their customers. Enhancements to sensing and measurement are high up on the priority list for grid improvements universally, helping to accelerate the global market. To learn more, register for the upcoming Guidehouse Insights-hosted webinar, How Multi-Sensing AI Platforms Unlock Full Grid Visibility.