Reimagining the Smart Grid of the Future with Software
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Reimagining the Smart Grid of the Future with Software

By Patric McElroy, VP & Chief Software Engineer, GE Power

Patric McElroy, VP & Chief Software Engineer, GE Power

In the U.S. alone, power outages cost the economy an average of $80B per year. For utilities, that means increased costs for penalties, repairs, overtime and customer service. The good news is that smart grid technologies can alleviate a substantial portion of this cost. A smart grid provides a much better understanding of the network and greater control—so even when outages happen, utilities can reroute power to minimize the impact and dispatch crews more effectively to ensure power is restored as quickly and safely as possible.

"Utilities are generating new sources of data but not all know how to utilize it or gain the intelligence from it to make operational decisions."

We believe the smart grid of the future will facilitate end-to-end optimization of grid infrastructure, from generation through transmission and all the way into consumers’ homes and enable integration through every facet of the energy value chain. The smart grid of the futur e will require innovation and convergence of grid hardware and software.

But operational hardware and software together are not enough. Utilities must take the power of operational software and combine it with advanced analytics to optimize their network. By creating a common data fabric, making applications modular, layering in machine learning, and taking a distributed approach with architecture and execution, Network- Level Optimization (NLO) can be achieved. NLO is enabled by a single source of truth for the electric delivery system, a cohesive, all-encompassing digital model of equipment, wiring, devices, and other gridcomponents, as-designed and as-operated. By leveraging data from across the enterprise, NLO will enable utilities to achieve new levels of productivity and profitability.

Here’s a look into the how software solutions will optimize the efficiency, reliability and security of the grid in addition to re-energizing our energy infrastructure to handle the demand of the next hundred years.

The Power of Data

As my colleague Steve Martin puts it, “energy will be underpinned by hardware that sets records for efficiency through software that optimizes that hardware individually and across networks that serve billions of people.” The amount of data being generated by utilities is astronomical and growing every day. Yet, the industry today is only using about three percent of its data.

Utilities are generating new sources of data but not all know how to utilize it or gain the intelligence from it to make operational decisions. Harnessing data can elevate utilities’ approaches from reactive to proactive. For example, Exelon, one of America's leading energy providers, partners with GE to tap into the power of data to outpace the weather. They created storm prediction technology that anticipates outages and deploys response teams to keep the electricity flowing and turn the lights back on quickly. Because of this opportunity, data and analytics have become the new currency for the energy industry.

Completing the Feedback Loop

As distributed energy resources (DERs) and two-way power flows become mainstream, monitoring and optimizing assets to extend their lives is critical for grid reliability and efficiency. Rich integrated capabilities and workflows will enable users to:

• Monitor industrial data and assets
• Analyze anomalies and alerts
• Manage cases through resolution using a unified work environment

But, you must not only have a platform that enables you to see the asset—but to also do something about it.

Grid asset performance software is the key to this next step. This software can provide consistent analytics for all assets, recommendations for action based on condition and risk, and comprehensive, fleet-wide reporting. But traditional, siloed grid asset performance management alone is not enough. The smart grid of the futur e will enable this data to be connected to data gathered across the grid, enabling operators and eventually closed-loop algorithms to optimize the overall efficiency and economic opportunity of the grid end-to-end, rather than just being limited to siloed decisions about individual grid assets.

Other solutions such as situational awareness displays will enable you to break down information silos and provide more details across a distributed workforce. For example: displaying SCADA or outage alarm visualizations against the network assets for back office users outside of the Control Room or mobile workers in the field. Enterprise-grade mobile solutions are critical to enabling field crews to safely and securely operate grid equipment from the field, especially as part of an agile and responsible outage management capability.

Increased efficiency and reliability will only be possible if you link information and people effortlessly. That combination leads to making smarter decisions, avoiding costly operational risks and developing your business for the long term.

Security Baked In

When it comes to moving and visualizing information for the entire energy workforce, it’s as important as ever to standardize and optimize smart grid security. Software solutions should enable utilities to resist outside influences, detect tampering and follow a strict protocol to keep information and energy flowing safely. When evaluating potential software solutions, utilities need to ensure they meet the needs of today’s cybersecurity requirements. Fast, AI-based detection, automatic quarantine of cyber threats, and distributed, decentralized authorization with least-privilege permissions are critical to the security of the smart grid of the future.

Re-energizing our Planet's Energy Infrastructure

The need for a smarter grid is clear. Growing worldwide energy needs, coupled with trends toward decentralization of energy generation (via renewables) and decarbonization, demand intelligent, adaptive solutions. Utilities need a clear and compelling roadmap for this digital journey from beginning to end. Real, powerful solutions based on the application of advanced, digital technologies, building synergies to improve overall efficiency, reliability and security are here and continuing to take shape across the industry.

Digital transformation must be tablestakes and investing in a smarter grid with the software solutions built for today and the future should be an important strategic initiative for 2019.

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