Today’s power grids are changing at an alarming rate. Distributed energy resources are rapidly replacing power plants, making it more difficult for grid managers to manage energy flows in the system. Smart remote monitoring solutions can help.

Power grids have undergone massive changes over the past decade. Once static star networks extending from a power plant and control center, today networks are decentralized while constantly expanding and contracting to meet dynamic demands for electricity. Electricity is increasingly produced at the periphery through residential solar power and other renewable sources, and consumed inconsistently through electric vehicle charging stations and other electrification trends (Figure 1). These are not your parents’ power grids. These are apparently living networks that power our homes, businesses, transportation systems, and economies.

1. Electricity grids around the world are changing and this evolution is expected to continue. Trends in electrification, including the adoption of more electric vehicles, will force power systems to expand, making smart remote monitoring systems even more important in the future. Source: Shutterstock

The growing importance of the network has also transformed business models. Electric utilities are no longer dedicated to generating electricity. Instead, they deliver power through an increasingly complex and dynamic power grid. The energy generated at the edge of the grid must be managed, modulated and delivered on demand where it is needed, through an increasingly complex electrical infrastructure. It requires the ability to monitor the health and performance of a growing list of assets and take immediate action to ensure balance and avoid outages.

However, the growth and increasing complexity of these networks is beyond the capabilities of human operators. It is simply no longer practical to have human operators sifting through terabytes of surveillance data across thousands of assets, browsing through thousands of signals and alarms every day to differentiate between issues that arise. are exploitable and the problems which are statistical noise. New technology is needed to relieve human operators without jeopardizing assets, the network and the customer experience.

A modern approach to remote monitoring

Ameren, a Fortune 500 electric utility operating in Missouri and Illinois, is transforming the way it operates in light of these challenges. And, it does so with the help of innovative technology and Hitachi Energy.

Traditional remote monitoring solutions provide near real-time monitoring and analysis of production and network health, as well as predictive optimization and planning. But Ameren has embraced new intelligent remote monitoring solutions powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to deliver continuous insight that was never available before. Its operators can use the information to automate actions based on predefined triggers or take action themselves to ensure optimal health and performance and extend asset life. And they can do it without having to employ an army of control room operators or field technicians.

Intelligent remote monitoring solutions allow Ameren operators to monitor power flow, turn generation sources on and off, monitor power quality, notify technicians of under voltage and other actions remotely and automatically, with the ultimate goal of facilitating a safe and efficient daily life. day-to-day operations while minimizing long-term capital expenditure.

Move intelligence to the periphery

Smart remote monitoring solutions can enable even more agility by moving intelligence to the edge of the network in substations where it is closer to distributed assets. Transformers now come with integrated central processing units and are connected to the Internet through wireless routers. This eliminates the need to bring data back to a central control center for analysis. Instead, Ameren operators can now make and automate decisions at the edge.

Armed with this intelligence and connectivity, Ameren’s field assets can communicate with each other, exchange information, and train to optimize performance and availability (Figure 2). They can automatically balance the electrical load, switch transformers, and take other proactive steps to prevent overloads or outages at a granular level before they occur without human intervention.

2. Smart, well-connected remote monitoring systems allow a wide range of assets to communicate with each other. Meanwhile, artificial intelligence and machine learning tools enable automated actions that can help operators maintain a reliable and resilient power grid. Courtesy of: Hitachi Energy

Five considerations

But not all smart remote monitoring solutions are created equal. Here are five things to look out for when evaluating a solution for your unique needs.

Unified network management. Operators are faced with growing and increasingly complex networks, which makes their full visibility beyond the traditional boundaries of transmission and distribution networks essential. Look for a remote monitoring solution that gives operators a single, unified view of the entire power grid that provides better situational awareness and advanced network applications. This includes remote supervision operations, advanced distribution management, transportation management, production management and market management, all in a single, intuitive view.

Intelligent automation. Remote monitoring is not just about visibility, it is just as much about control. Utilities can integrate triggers into their remote monitoring solutions that automatically trigger an action based on pre-defined conditions. This streamlines workflows, frees up time for your operators, and speeds up resolution time. For example, a utility can integrate its asset management solution with work order management to automatically create a work order for a failed asset.

Self-healing powered by AI / ML. Some of these automated actions can revolve around self-healing. Smart remote monitoring solutions can use AI and ML to make the network less prone to outages. Imagine that a thunderstorm washes away a series of transformers in an area. Typically, a technician would be dispatched to perform repairs and restart the system, but customers could be out of service until the service call is complete. A service mesh would automatically reconfigure the network to close the coverage gap. Operators could then work with technicians in the field to put damaged equipment back into service. This is done through self-healing algorithms that train to identify and fix problems on the fly.

Visualization. No one wants to go through spreadsheets and databases all day. Your smart remote monitoring solution should have a built-in visualization engine that presents relevant data so that operators can easily and quickly understand and take appropriate action. Alerts should be color coded and clearly visible, and should provide all the context necessary for resolution. Standard and custom reports should be intuitive and easy to understand for non-technicians.

Scalable and elastic. Grids will continue to grow in size and scope, and your remote monitoring solution should evolve gradually. Who knows what tomorrow’s technology will bring? It is important to build for today, but to plan for tomorrow. This requires a flexible, modular architecture built on open source platforms so that you can essentially connect new assets and third-party systems easily and seamlessly with little to no configuration required. You can also consider a hosted solution designed for the cloud that gives operators visibility and control wherever there is an internet connection. In terms of functionality, start with monitoring and then expand as necessary to include monitoring, reporting, redundancy, and network topology in response to current and future needs.

Build for today, design for tomorrow

The grids of today are nothing like the grids of yesteryear. They are decentralized and dynamic, and must be carefully and complexly managed and modulated to deliver electricity on demand where it is needed. Human operators need help. Fortunately, intelligent remote monitoring solutions powered by AI / ML provide near real-time monitoring and analysis of production and network health, as well as predictive optimization and planning.

Make sure to look for a solution that offers unified network management; can streamline workflows through automation; is self-healing; presents alerts and other information in a visual and compelling manner; and can grow in size and reach with your power grid. This will translate into operational efficiency, renewable energy integration, improved reliability and resiliency of the grid, essentially a scalable power grid designed for the capabilities of today and designed for the opportunities of tomorrow.

Bryan Friehauf is senior vice president of enterprise software solutions at Hitachi Energy.

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