Over the last decade, the situation for grid operators has changed. Challenges like the energy transition and new legislation require grid companies to evolve. Integration is key to counter these challenges. How? By turning your control room into an integrated decision center.

These are turbulent times for grid companies. Stable demand has been replaced by more dynamic consumer behavior due to a heavier dependence on distributed renewables and new technological developments like electric vehicles. Grid companies are under pressure to improve service levels and security. And all this needs to be done while there is a need to reduce costs. Integration is key to counter these challenges.

Challenges That Drive Grid Companies to Change

Over the last decade the situation for grid operators has changed. In market that’s becoming more liberalized, pressure on operational costs is rising while new technical developments introduce new opportunities and threats. This requires grid operators to evolve.

These Are the 5 Key Drivers That Force Grid Companies to Change:

  1. New legislation enforced by the regulator (ACM in the Netherlands) on the activities, responsibilities, and rates for DSO’s and TSO’s cause an increased pressure on slimming operational margins. The new rules imply that fewer investment costs can be included in the rates. Therefore, grid operators are searching for new ways to reduce OPEX costs by making their organizations more efficient and by optimizing the use of their assets, resources, and capacity to limit investments.
  2. The energy transition is causing a fluctuating usage of grids. A stronger reliance on renewables causes fluctuations in the supply side due to the high impact of the weather conditions on the production. A second consequence is that everybody with a solar panel on their roof becomes a local energy producers instead of consumers. So the energy transition impacts both the supply as well as the demand side of the equation. The impact of good weather conditions result in a higher supply and a lower demand, making it even more difficult to balance. Another modern challenge on the demand side is the rise of the number of electric vehicles. The grid was not built to support the parallel charging of a street full of electric vehicles. So, where in the past the grid companies had to manage a simple landscape with big centralized production and predictable demand, the situation is now much more complex. Grid operators now have to balance many local producers and a fluctuating demand and supply.
  3. Social Attention for Safety and Security raises the priority to improve audit possibilities and traceability of processes and operations. Secondly, the reaction time in case of incidents or calamities needs to be reduced.
  4. New Technologies Like Smart Metering and Digitization of the Grid generate large amounts of data. With significantly larger amounts of information on the behavior of the grid and its participants, grid companies should be better able to predict demand and potential issues in the grid. However, they are struggling how. Another problem with the highly detailed information on individual households has to do with data ethics and security. A smart meter can easily identify when someone is away from home, for example. While this information is valuable to grid companies, it is also valuable information for other commercial institutions or even worse: burglars. On the one hand grid companies are therefore struggling to generate value from this data, while on the other hand they have to balance data ethics and data security.
  5. Today’s Customers Demand increasing supply guarantees and demand Service Level Agreements (SLA’s) to be met. As a Dutch grid company, a significant part of your infrastructure was built multiple decades ago not knowing what the future would bring.Extending thee life-span of old assets raises risks while replacing them on a large scale raises pressure on field operations and requires large investments.

Turn your control room into an integrated decision center in 3 steps

In order to stay ahead of the game and enable quick decision making, you need to make sure that all the relevant information is at your fingertips displayed in the most optimal form. How to achieve this? By turning your control room in an integrated decision center.

Next We Will Go Through the 3 Steps to Make It Happen:

  1. Integrate All the Grid Infrastructure in the Central Command Center. Large parts of the grid in the Netherlands are not monitored in real time, let alone allow for remote control. Obviously, you will be able to respond better and faster when the right information is at your fingertips. Integrating these parts of the grid will enable you to do just that. It provides insights in parts of the grid that were in the dark before. And it allows you to steer it from a central command center. This will increase control of this part of the grid, enable better use of scarce resources and in this way, reduce risk and costs.

    Finally, the new source of data allows for better insight in the behavior of the grid to support more effective decision making. Or even, as a next step, predict the behavior and failures to allow for predictive maintenance. At a Dutch grid company for example, we are integrating part of the 20kV grid into the central control room. This program has been set up to reduce risk and improve insight, speed and quality of responses in case of incidents. And in this way reducing of the 'System Average Interruption Duration Index' (SAIDI).
  2. Don’t Look Back, but Look Forward. Even though grid companies have seen an increase in available data due to further digitization of the grid, they often still look to historic data to determine what actions to take. The biggest struggle grid companies are facing with the big amounts of data available today, is how to get value from the raw data. There are multiple ways:

    Improve forecasting: With the detailed data available, grid companies can create a better forecasts. Insight is needed in the ever stronger correlation between weather forecast and supply- and demand planning. And this forecast has to become cross-border for TSO’s. A strong wind in Germany for example, will result in an overproduction of electricity, which in turn leads to dumping the oversupply on other European markets with an associated drop in price. At a Dutch TSO we are realizing a real-time integration between the control room solution and the forecasting solution to counter this. That way the data is made available for decision making in the control room. This allows for decisions based not only on historic data, but also on real time generated forecasts.

    Optimize asset allocation: The strong pressure on minimizing OPEX forces grid companies to optimize the use of their assets. New statistical solutions are now available that use the data available to optimize the use of the assets in the grid. Thus, they are able to minimize the number of compressors needed to transport gas for example.

    Predict equipment failure: The most challenging, but possibly also the most rewarding, is to predict possible issues and equipment failure. This insight allows for betters investments in the grid, reducing CAPEX and improving the SAIDI by avoiding interruptions.

    Where technological developments are causing challenges, new developments also provide solutions. New cloud based solutions can help to provide the insights required while avoiding large investments. At a UK-based grid company for example, we integrated raw data with the Accenture Insights Platform, a cloud based analytics platform. In doing so, insight in the grid’s performance was improved, leading to a significant reduction in OPEX.
  3. Break Down Those Barriers: Finally, an organizational improvement is needed. Regularly there are big walls between the field organization and the control room. This results in complex information flows between different departments and fragmented analyses. The solution is simple. Brake down those barriers and turn your control room into an integrated decision center. From this nerve center you will be able to steer the operation in a more efficient way. Once the barriers have been torn down, different departments can integrate more efficiently on a process level as well as on the underlying IT level. At a Dutch TSO we broke down the barriers by integrating the network model maintenance processes between operations and control departments. At the same time, the underlying IT systems were integrated. By integrating these systems, changes in the grid only have to be entered once, reducing the OPEX. And the integration will make sure that the data will be available in a timely manner.

By following these steps your grid company can successfully counter the disruptive challenges they face today.

What do you think of the concept of an integrated decision center? What challenges is your grid company facing and how are you countering them? Get involved and leave a comment below. If you would like to know how we can help you to create an integrated decision center and disruptive challenges happening today, please get in touch.

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