Triangulating Data-The Next Frontier of the Smart Grid Revolution?

The most volatile part of the grid is the area between the substation and the meters and the power industry is keen to solve this "missing link."
Published: Thu 27 Feb 2014

This large and vulnerable “missing link” area is faced with interruption threats from wind storms, ice storms, lightning strikes, tree limb touches, fallen trees, vehicles severing line poles, transformer failures, asset fires, blown fuses, and much more. Alan Snook, President of Grid 20/20 suggests a new wave of low-cost sensor technology which will bring that part of the grid into the light so that crisis can be avoided or resolved quickly.

According to Mr Snook, one large Canadian utility has reported that its distribution system experiences over 200 events similar to the above on a daily basis. This vulnerability, coupled with high levels of theft (the US alone suffers annual losses from energy theft of US$6 billion); the situation becomes critical for the grid.

If this “gap” is removed, the result will be an improved operations oversight and enhanced revenue protection. A distribution transformer monitor (DTM) is retrofit onto distribution transformers. As it is installed, the transformer changes from a simple technical device into a valuable intelligent node that is able to reveal critical data.

This new, cost-effective level of visibility will also help utilities to harness the real value of big data. Following is a list of what value the distribution transformer monitor can offer:

  • Enhances Conservation Voltage Reduction (CVR)

  • Accelerates outage notifications and restoration

  • Recognizes preventive maintenance needs which helps to avoid unexpected power outages

  • Identifies revenue protection opportunities-especially in pre-meter tap instances

  • Locates improperly sized transformers due to Electric Vehicle charging installations

  • Measures bi-directional energy from distributed generation sources such as solar and wind

  • Searches and focuses in on expensive technical losses

  • Reveals poor power quality

A practical solution

A strong data foundation will be achieved by applying a variety of data sets, obtained from the fleet of distribution transformers located within every grid, to the existing substation and endpoint meter information.

Distribution transformer monitor sensors transmit timely, accurate intra-grid readings for voltage, energy, current and temperature. This empowers a long list of derived performance and power quality understandings for operations personnel. In addition, with over-the-air (OTA) upgrade capability being leveraged within distribution transformer monitors, these sensors set the stage for the most versatile, ever-growing, future proof source of data stripping from within the extremely vulnerable part of the grid.

The case for the triangle offense

Mr Snook suggests that utilities triangulate data from three sources: substations, meters and distribution transformers.

Triangulation in the smart grid means using three sources of data to get a more accurate picture of the grid.

Although Advanced Metering Infrastructure data is very valuable, it is not sufficient to effectively manage operations with great accuracy. This is probably why the distribution transformer monitor market may be the next frontier of the smart grid revolution. For one thing, it is relevant to all utilities worldwide, whether or not they have embarked on Advanced Metering Infrastructure. It is also the most versatile of the foundational sensors required to drive advanced grid intelligence and fuel Big Data.