The move to a digital world is bringing both challenges and benefits to utilities.
With numerous assets, devices and customers often over a large area becoming connected and inter-connected digitally, new forms of collaboration are opening up, while at the same time offering opportunities to improve efficiency and performance. With the development of an Internet of Things with the proliferation of intelligent sensors, smart meters and customer-connected devices, the volume of data is expanding by orders of magnitude, opening the way for new insights and services. However, the security threats are also growing, resulting in cybersecurity becoming more critical.
Traditionally, distribution companies (DSOs) have operated as asset-centric companies, physically managing electricity distribution infrastructure assets, such as electrical lines and cables, substations and transformers. With the upgrade of this infrastructure into ‘smart grids,’ however, DSOs are becoming data-centric companies, using digital technologies to optimise asset management, integrate distributed renewable energy resources and improve network stability and security. They are also able to leverage consumer and network data to deliver better quality of service and engagement and to serve better as a neutral facilitator among market players.
Vision of a ‘Digital DSO’
Europe’s DSO association (EDSO for Smart Grids) in a new position paper has set out a vision for the ‘Digital DSO’ towards which its members are (or should be) aspiring and transitioning.
This is of an upgraded network and systems with:
• Cybersecurity for digitalisation in all domains
• Digitalisation in network management and operation. Examples include:
- Ability to predict and handle power infeed with bi-directional power flow to manage intermittent and decentralised power production
- Evaluation of energy data to predict grid loads and anticipate bottlenecks, which allows for the optimisation of network investments
- Real-time processing of load data and generation, enabling the integration with demand/supply balancing service to optimise grid utilisation
- New capabilities in predictive maintenance and self-healing concepts help to further reduce operational costs
- Predictive analytics based on sensor data, enabling smarter asset management with a fully digital allocation of spare parts, work and logistics
- Long-term system planning and integration with other (regional) grids
- Hardware-in-the-loop testing that can use complex simulation coupled with actual hardware testing
• Digitalisation in mobility and field operations. Examples include:
- Digital support for grid operations, allowing very fast response and/or allowing very thorough analysis of contingencies and their consequence;
- Digital support for field technicians
- Digital business processes, replacing manual transactions in procurement, inventory management, invoicing and payment processing
• Digitalisation for market facilitation. Examples include:
- Meter-point operations to digitally connect to the consumer and enable value-adding services
- Collaboration with consumer and prosumer, consumers who produce their own energy, to reduce consumption and optimise network management
- Data-enabled transactions among DSOs, aggregators and supplier, aggregator and consumers, energy start-ups
- Fast transactions allowing close-to-real-time intra-day market closure for better integration of variable renewables in the wholesale market
- Standardised and secure data exchange to support market communications (e.g. supplier switching, meter data exchange, billing data exchange, nominations)
- Provision of anonymised and/or aggregated data to public administrations and market parties to enable market innovation.
Regulation for Digital DSOs
“Digital energy will be a major policy theme in 2016,” says Ana Aguado, EDSO Secretary General, adding that members are fully committed to this “important transformation.”
To further transition to a digital DSO, EDSO for Smart Grids recommends that Europe’s DSOs should be able to self-supply or commercially procure electronic communications networks and services in the way they deem most efficient and effective to achieve grid stability and security of supply and to upgrade their networks to smart grids.
There should be exclusive spectrum assignment for DSO smart grid applications adopted at EU level, in order to rationalise and modernise spectrum management and help reduce spectrum scarcity as well as allow optimal control over wireless solutions.
Standards priorities for data and ICT topics also should be set at EU-level and accompanied by clear development timetables.
As DSOs are already regulated and neutral parties, they are the best suited to collect, store and manage consumer data to facilitate a platform for data exchange among market parties. Accordingly, DSO should be allowed to establish and upgrade platforms and protocols for exchanging smart metering data with TSOs and other market players without the appointment of a third-party manager.
From a cost recovery perspective distribution network tariffs should be more capacity-based, ensuring grid users – including self-generating and self-consuming energy consumers – pay fair and cost-reflective rates.
DSOs would also benefit from additional funding for research and innovation (R&I) projects for smart grids, piloting data-driven solutions and digital technologies.