Platform play: building a structure for grid transformation

As utility digitalisation brings complexity for distribution system operators, Schneider Electric unveils a new solution

In November 2016, Schneider Electric launched the EcoStruxure Grid platform, an open and interoperable system architecture for the Internet of Things (IoT) targeted at several verticals including the grid market and distribution system operators.

Schneider describes the platform as a technology stack that includes connected products and edge control, applications, analytics and services together with cyber security. Although each element of the stack is already being used in the market, Schneider’s marketing director of Automation and Energy Business Jean-Yves Bodin said what is new is how the company has pulled together the capabilities into one platform.

DSOs could deploy the complete end to end system - although this is unlikely “as I believe most are multi-supplier”, says Bodin - to ensure high efficiency in grid operations, to optimise asset management and assist the transformation to being a digital utility with digitised end users.

Distribution system operators - challenges and opportunities

Schneider developed the platform solution in bid to counteract the daily concerns of DSOs, says Bodin. “We see DSOs as the most impacted by disruption to the traditional utility model. Generation companies are affected too, but we expect DSOs to play a very central role in this transformation due to the fact that they are between distributed generation companies and the new type of consumers plus new actors and aggregators in charge of demand response programmes.”

Bodin continues: “Transmission system operators (TSOs) are facing stability issues and expecting DSOs to provide much more granularity in terms of the distribution network. In all aspects DSOs have to deal with more interoperability and real-time data exchange with the different actors so it’s a major change for them.”

Distributed grid management tools

Breaking down the innovation stack, Bodin comments on how Schneider has introduced more mobile applications to increase efficiency in the field. “It’s much safer for the field crew to be five metres away from the MV switchgear. We are also using augmented reality and smart applications to give greater efficiency.”

Another capability that Schneider deploys is cloud although he admits that “we are cautious on cloud. We don’t see today a massive adoption of cloud technology in the utility market but we have identified some use cases where cloud brings real value, such as microgrid management.” Asset performance management ‘as a service’ where Schneider connects experts often on transformers with utility maintenance staff is also a good cloud use case.

Sensors and grid edge control

The sensing market is another essential pillar of the DSO digitalisation journey and “allows them to tackle new roles and business models”, says Bodin. Schneider has developed a thermal sensor that is “cost effective and easy to install” and uses Zigbee to wirelessly connect to a SCADA network, for example.

He says: “We’re seeing customers deploy smart sensors to anticipate failures on transformers or switchgears for critical assets. In Indonesia, the national utility has ordered such thermal sensors, to reinforce efficiency in the grid infrastructure of the city of Jakarta which will give them great competency internally on advanced sensing.”

Although much of the technological capabilities of EcoStruxure Grid is in-house at Schneider, Bodin says partnerships with technology companies complete the platform picture. EcoStruxure draws on Microsoft’s Cortana intelligence suite to develop analytics across applications. While the company has also teamed with France’s EnergyPool to provide a demand response solution, and the CoSMo Company for asset management strategies while also “looking at startups to complement its services”.

Grid transformation in the field

So is the DSO market ready for this type of grid platform? “We are seeing concrete examples of IoT implementation,” says Bodin. “Today Schneider has 18,000 transformers deployed in customers’ premises equipped with QR codes that give mobile access to a cloud-based digital avatar of the transformer.”

Another example of grid transformation in the field is Schneider working with French distribution grid operator Enedis to fit smart sensors to measure voltage fluctuations on the line just behind a large wind farm in France. “This provides real-time control at substation level to properly adjust voltage pattern,” says Bodin.

Schneider is also deploying its cloud-based DER control portal in multiple microgrids projects especially in the US where the market and business cases are gaining in maturity, he confirms.

To sum up, says Bodin, the value of a platform approach is to enable DSOs to master their digital transformation and become skilled data managers. “It provides a new environment, to not only move forward with information technology and operational technology integration but also the right landscape to be able to collaborate with all actors from TSOs to prosumers.”

Video interview 

For more on Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure Grid, Schneider's SVP Energy Automation Vincent Petit talks to Engerati in a video interview at European Utility Week 2016 in Barcelona.

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