How are power grids becoming situationally aware?

Manoj Vivek, General Manager and Technical Solutions Leader- Power and Industrial automation, QuEST Global.

There is an age-old conundrum still plaguing the power sector. The expansion of power grid networks are not increasing at the same pace at which the global demand for energy is increasing every day across the world. This results in the existing grids being heavily loaded, while increasing the importance of grid resilience. Past blackouts have clearly exposed the vulnerability of grid networks. During such blackouts and brownouts, the impact can be minimized by an operator taking the right information and initiating corrective actions at the right time. However, such timely interventions are only possible when the power sector is leveraging digital technologies that help acquire, derive and present the right information and implement the requisite actions at the right time.

Modernization of electric power systems are resulting in the increased usage of digital technologies to monitor and control the grid assets. A power system is said to be the largest machine ever built by humans, spreading across thousands of kilometers with heavy infrastructure. The power flow in such heavy infrastructure drastically varies depending on the demand-supply scenario and load fluctuations. Understanding the dynamic nature of such a system is critical to managing the same. Digital technologies such as intelligent sensors, high-speed data acquisition systems, seamless data exchange and storage, data integrity through cloud, data analytics to gain insights and spatial data systems are few such sub-systems to create a modern grid monitoring and management system. Such systems are also emerging as full-fledged outage management systems by integrating the grid-level digital field support features.

Reasons for power outages and its effects

Control systems that are installed at utility centers gather data from sensors inside the grid to analyze the network’s secure operating state and power supply according to demand. Significant portions of the transmission and distribution networkslie above ground and are consequently affected by weather conditions. Resultantly, unpredictable, severe or unseasonal weather events are the leading cause of large power outages as grid networks and sub-station resources are damaged by rising water levels or extremely powerful winds or even earthquake tremors. However, massive power outages are resultant from several component failures happening within minutes, despite graphical displays showing the load on all lines for identifying the weakest links.Apart from all these, public damage, tracking outages and momentary circuit interruptions are also among the reasons behind power outages. Major blackouts in the recent past have shown how vulnerable power transmission networks are. Moreover, these power crises resulting from transmission equipment overloads, negatively impact both the public services and the business world.

Why there is a need for Situational Awareness (SA)?

Geographic Information Systems (GIS)enhance visualization of power systems by associating spatial data with transmission assets and is used for managing geographically spread out assets. Thus, the use of GIS in power grid management had started out a few decades ago, with GIS becoming an intrinsic tool today. Spatial data (static data) related to all elements of the grid assets captured and modelled are made available in the GIS and then enhanced with real-time data (dynamic data) from the field. The dynamic data, and the insights derived from it are mapped to appropriate layers of GIS and user can see the overview and zoom into details as needed.  

Considering the critical nature of power systems, gaining the time-synchronized, real-time view of the transmission and distribution network at the right time, by the right person, is key for taking timely right decisions. Conventional systems (RTUs and SCADA) used to gain the essential information (magnitude), while the new devices (PMUs - Phasor Measuring Units) capture the magnitude and phase angle. This in turn gives information on the phase angle differences (grid stress), small signal stability (oscillations & damping), frequency instability, generation-load imbalance, power-angle sensitivity, power-voltage sensitivity and many more of such critical indicators.

The modern devices such as PMUs, scan at much faster rates and provide huge volumes of data. Operators receive similar big data from various sources flooding into a utility’s Outage Management System (OMS).  Moreover,thousands of such devices are time synchronized with satellites to bear the real-time snapshot of the entire network at a particular instance. This data gives the Situational Awareness (SA)of the grid.

Significance of Situational Awareness

Visualization of the voluminous data from PMU databases is a tough task. The WAMS (Wide Area Management Systems) have to be equipped with such SAfeatures that effectively represent the data and insights to prompt necessary actions. A higher level of SA in the distribution centre can also make better decisions and take advanced measures or actionsat the crisis moments. Cultivating SA during outage restoration is not an isolated exercise; so it relies on an ecosystem of people, processes and tools to deliver value.

A QuEST for Situational awareness

QuESTGlobal’s digital field support system enables the field crew with all needed information to repair the infrastructure for enabling quick recovery of the equipment/sub-system. Such digital solutions can be built on QuEST’s or any third-party’s Internet of Things (IoT) framework and integrated with QuEST’s Augmented Reality (AR)/ Virtual Reality (VR) framework (AR 360) and analytics engine.

With a collaborative control approach enabling operators and field crews to make real-time decisions and take actions accordingly, the digital utility will operate in a more efficient and cooperative manner. QuEST has worked with top OEMs and utility companies for enhancing their existing WAMS by providing a fluid User Interface (UI)/User Experience (UX) that will better equip the operators to manage their systems during outage.For instance, QuEST has created a configurable, multi-tab dashboard with voltage and frequency contours, flow animations, markers & marker containers for alarms/alerts and placemark overlays that provides the power grid operators with a comprehensive yet simplified view of massive transmission grids.

Way Ahead

The WAMS and the outage management systemscould further be enhanced by integrating drones, Artificial Intelligence (AI) & Machine Learning (ML). For example, to transform a power grid’s passive security system into an active defense-and-denial physical protection system, AI powered tower-mounted robots are no longer a dream, but reality. Drones or Unmanned Aerial vehicles (UAVs) are also all set to drastically cut costs for power line inspections while also being safer, reliable and quicker in terms of response time across transmission and distribution systems.A much advanced UI/UX can allow user operators to smartly compare differences in the data to gain an understanding of the extent of the damage and the outage restoration effort required.

| Article published on 26/11/2018 by Moulin

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