Network Management System Helps Utilities Reduce Outages

What is the Smart Grid?

Proximity

By Andres Carvallo

What is the Smart Grid?

The smart grid is the integration of a power grid, communications network, software and hardware to monitor, control and manage the creation, distribution, storage and consumption of energy. The smart grid of the future will be distributed, interactive, self-healing and will reach every electric device.

An advanced smart grid enables the seamless integration of smart utility infrastructures with smart buildings, smart homes and smart electric vehicles that pervasively use distributed generation, energy storage and smart devices to increase grid reliability, energy efficiency, renewable energy use and customer satisfaction-while reducing capital and operating costs.

The Smart Grid Emerges

First generation smart grids usually start with one application, such as smart metering, distribution automation or demand response, and then incrementally expand by adding more applications over time- each with a stand-alone and dedicated companion communications network. This is primarily because integrated utilities are organized in silos-such as generation, wholesale energy, transmission, distribution, metering, retail energy and conservation-and each silo does not have vested interest in understanding a company-wide return on investment. In deregulated markets where utilities are broken up into generation, wires and retail companies, a similar challenge occurs. Both integrated and deregulated utility markets require standards and interoperability to achieve system-wide or company-wide return on investments. These utility markets also need new investment rules to guarantee returns while being more energy efficient and potentially selling less power volumetrically.

On the other hand, advanced smart grids, or second generation smart grids, start with a company-wide or system-wide smart grid architecture designed to address requirements in the areas of coverage, control, quality of service, service restoration and integration with engineering applications and back office systems to deliver the desired company-wide return on investments. Because the advanced smart grid is designed to support any variety of applications as needed, short or long term, the communications network, or network of networks, must be designed to support necessary new services and capabilities.

Why Does the Smart Grid Need a Network Management System?

Designing and deploying multiple networks that potentially have millions of devices within the different utility silos is costly and difficult to manage and maintain over time.

Investing in a Smart Grid Network Management System (SGNMS) to coordinate the smart grid communications infrastructure allows utilities to reduce total cost of ownership (TCO) and outage times while increasing reliability, safety, security and customer satisfaction. By developing the right set of requirements, architectural imperatives, and security and interface standards, the utility can achieve many benefits such as: upgrading to new networking technologies as they emerge, choosing from multiple vendors that meet the same open standards, increasing back-up capabilities by leveraging private and public network solutions, managing all assets via a central console, reducing training costs, reducing outages, improving fault-detection and restoration times, and improving customer satisfaction.

Advanced Requirements, Benefits of a Smart Grid Network Management System

To realize its potential, a SGNMS should be built using industry best practices. The solution must include visualization, business logic, distributed processing and network element management with built-in geospatial and asset management features for easy integration. With well-defined and documented interfaces between each tier, a SGNMS provides greater flexibility, scalability, extensibility and security than trying to provide services using non-integrated systems. The SGNMS should support all individual networking protocols and standards to leverage the quality of service capabilities inherent in the available infrastructure and transition between ranges of network services.

Some of the key network services of a SGNMS should include: the ability to serve mission-critical multi-protocol, multi-frequency, multi-device and multi-vendor networks; enabling policy-based control for asset management, network optimization and traffic prioritization across different communications infrastructures (differing protocols and vendor implementations); and delivering comprehensive network management capabilities from the data center to all devices within the networks.

Network Design, Implementation of a Smart Grid Network Management System

A SGNMS allows multiple networks comprised of different protocols, vendors and service providers-including public and private resources-to perform as one logical network fabric. The SGNMS must provide differentiated services with dynamic allocation of resources, including bandwidth optimization, resource selection and modification, and centralized scheduling-allowing networks to achieve greater efficiencies in throughput that ensure the "best network, best frequency and best utilization time" with predictable performance and compliance. It also must give priority to different types of packets so real-time communications are not broken up, but also avoid causing any deterioration of low-latency applications and services. The SGNMS also needs to have built in system redundancy and proactively monitor for performance, utilization, quality of service and outages.

Once the SGNMS is deployed, closed-loop performance monitoring feeds data into the policy-based rules manager to anticipate and resolve problems before they become an issue. Fault management features will automatically correlate multiple events to pinpoint the root cause of outages and degradations. Many of the reports could be used to plan future additions and changes to the networks and services delivered.

Proximity

Monitoring Security, Performance of a Smart Grid Network Management System

A SGNMS enables the automation of network monitoring as utilization management allows network and business managers to focus on strategic initiatives for the utility, rather than reacting to unrelated alarms. The SGNMS also increases uptime dependability and productivity for network devices because it helps contain and remediate problems faster-before devices are impacted-than manually addressing each problem as it arises.

If a software upgrade during the night extends itself to the morning, affecting daily network performance, for example, the SGNMS would alert network staff that utilization is above normal behavior and when traditional utility operations function as normal during the day, if left unattended. The SGNMS would also be intelligent enough to automatically correlate related events to avoid inundating network staff with alerts triggered from a single event. When there's a problem, the SGNMS should automatically discover the disruption's root cause and suggest remedies or, where appropriate, automatically fix the problem.

In Conclusion

A SGNMS is an essential element in the successful deployment of an advanced smart grid; if we believe that when every electric device becomes smart and networked, the utility grid becomes the advanced smart grid. A SGNMS enables the automation needed to manage from tens of thousands to millions of connected devices via multiple networks that might be using different network transports. When edge devices become smart, equipped with the right network communication functionality and local intelligence, they become capable of being pre-programmed to operate independently and managed remotely.

As such, the SGNMS enables the networks and devices under management to bring back levels of detailed information about the grid status never before seen by utility managers and energy consumers. In short, a SGNMS orchestrates multiple networks, and intelligent edge devices suggest a dramatic transformation in grid management capability as processes designed for maintaining grid stability in the absence of information must be replaced by processes designed to leverage an abundance of information.


About the author: Andres Carvallo is the executive vice president and chief strategy officer of Proximetry. Prior to Proximetry, Carvallo served as Austin Energy's chief information officer where he became an early smart grid proponent, defining and promoting the term smart grid, and was the chief architect of the first fully deployed smart grid in the US.

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