Smart Grids Rein In Unruly Demands of Distributed Power

April 12, 2018 John Mello

The power grid isn’t what it used to be. Grid operators need to address the growing challenges of a new “active grid,” which requires integrating microgrids, renewables, demand response, and customers that not only consume energy but produce it, too (Figure 1). In this new reality, customers have generation and energy management capabilities all the way down to the low-voltage distribution network.

Figure 1. Grid operators face challenges their conventional control systems can’t cope with. (Source: Indra)

The new active grid needs a level of visibility and control that existing systems and methods can’t provide. SCADA systems, for example, don’t do a very good job of allowing operators to peer into what’s happening at the medium and lower voltage levels of their grids. Instead, utilities need scalable control systems capable of integrating Internet of Things, edge intelligence, and Big Data technologies.

Existing control systems can give operators visibility into the higher voltage layer but are largely blind to the lower layers, where more and more energy assets are being added. “That’s causing a lot of disturbances,” said Juan Prieto, senior manager in charge of energy modeling and control systems at Indra.

“It’s causing transformers to burn up and taking voltages out of control,” he continued, “and utilities do not have the tools to monitor what’s going on and do something about it.”

Utilities require a unified platform that can integrate and manage all grid assets at the edge, manage the massive volume of information generated by the Internet of Things, and enable future scalability. That’s what Indra and Intel offer power providers with Indra’s Active Grid Management Suite (AGM)—see Figure 2.

Figure 2. Indra Active Grid Management suite combines an open IoT architecture with state-of-the-art analytics to effectively monitor and manage a wide range of energy assets across the grid. (Source: Indra)

The Indra platform combines an open architecture with state-of-the-art distributed analytics to monitor and manage a wide range of energy assets across the grid. The solution helps customers:

  • Reduce costs by optimizing asset monitoring and management across the grid
  • Improve grid reliability through real-time diagnosis and optimal response
  • Provide real-time information exchange among systems regardless of manufacturer
  • Furnish a comprehensive view of all monitoring and control resources while avoiding vendor-locking and bottlenecks
  • Enable new use cases through insights gained from grid interoperability, scalability, and analytics-driven insights

Lowering Costs and Carbon Emissions

This type of smart management can benefit grid operators in a number of ways.

It can reduce costs by allowing operators to get optimal productivity from their assets by allowing them to run closer to their design limits. That enables operators to remove excess capacity from their grids. The life of the asset can also be extended by better maintenance management based on the system’s better handling of information.

Smart grid management can also decrease carbon emissions. It smooths the integration of alternative energy sources—wind, solar, and such—to the grid. It also allows energy to be produced closer to where it’s consumed, which not only saves on transmission and distribution costs but on fossil fuels needed to be consumed to support higher transmission and distribution levels.

Managing on the Edges

At the heart of inGRID AGM are intelligent edge nodes based on Intel Atom® processors. The gateways gather information from energy assets on the grid in real time, and perform analytics on that data. ?Because you have intelligence capability at the edge, you don’t need to send raw data in massive volumes to the operator for a decision,” Prieto explained. “You can filter that information, analyze it, and send only what is relevant for the operator to take into consideration.”

Information on the system can be shared among the edge nodes, the cloud, and legacy operational technology systems through Indra’s bus architecture. Such sharing facilitates monitoring, analytics, and asset optimization. From the cloud, the data can be represented in dashboards and reports, which in turn can be used to simulate asset changes or have big data analysis applied to it with Indra’s analytics software.

The inGRID AGM suite offers an operator a number of benefits. For example, Indra’s iSpeed bus can increase compatibility across a wide variety of vendors and protocols. In addition, Indra’s monitoring portal can perform centralized, real-time grid asset monitoring of all voltage levels, and generate early warnings.

The suite also has a built-in what-if analysis tool for simulating changes before they’re performed, and powerful analytics for discovering trends and predicting outcomes from both historical and real-time information. What’s more, the suite can handle multiple use cases, such as medium- and lower-voltage monitoring, asset condition monitoring, distributed energy resources, and DR integration.

Indra’s edge nodes also can issue corrective instructions to assets, like batteries, to enable them to “self-heal,” and configure assets automatically to compensate for faulty assets or redirect power to where it’s needed most.

Partnering with Intel

Indra has partnered with Intel since 2015 because of the chipmaker’s proven track record in processing volumes of data generated from an IoT deployment. “Everything is about processing the information on the grid,” Prieto said. “If you can’t process it, you will not be able to react fast enough. You will not be able to add value and improve how you manage these systems.”

Intel® hardware and software allow Indra to offer an end-to-end solution for power providers. Gateways based on Intel® technology provide the edge processing needed for the smart energy grid, driving reliability through edge device management and robust security features. Intel also provides powerful cloud computing through Amazon Web Services servers built on Intel® Xeon® processors.

Intel components are also designed to operate in a variety of conditions. “Some have to work in the field, processing information generated in substations and distribution transformers under extreme external conditions,” Prieto explained.

“And they need to be secure because as you open your infrastructure to monitor more elements, the more open it gets, the more risky it gets,” he continued. “Intel chips incorporate hardware encryption technology to ensure the secure exchange of information on the system.”

Opening New Opportunities

With better control of the grid, new business models may begin to emerge. Organizations may want to have smart grids of their own. Operators could provide services related to those “micro grids.” At some point, even individual consumers could become energy brokers. If they have excess power from their solar panels or are going on vacation, with the help of the smart grid, they could sell power to their neighbors.

“This infrastructure will allow new markets to happen,” Prieto said. “This isn’t science fiction. We’re seeing it happening now.”

About the Author

John Mello

John Mello is freelance writer and editor specializing in business and technology subjects, including consumer electronics, business computing and cyber security.​ His work has appeared in the Boston Globe, Boston Herald, TechNewsWorld, E-Commerce Times, CSO Online, CIO and CFO magazines. He is also former managing editor of the Boston Business Journal and Boston Phoenix.

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