Equipping Grid Operators to Meet the Demands of a More Dynamic Energy System


By Robin Sarfas

The way utilities all over the world are acquiring and using data is changing. The proliferation of smart meters and other advanced metering infrastructure is providing utilities with unprecedented information about end-user consumption. Similarly, the downward trend in the cost of deploying IoT devices to monitor the network means that it is now far more affordable for DSOs and TSOs to expand and deepen their grid awareness.

Networks are also experiencing an increase in available data from other streams, both from internal systems such as EMS or SCADA, and from external sources such as weather forecasts or even their customers’ social media posts. At the same time as the volume of available data is exploding, technological advances in how it is analysed now provide the opportunity for utilities to leverage it for far more than its face-value insight.

However, it is not just opportunities, but myriad pressures, which are driving this change. Take for example the uptake of behind-the-meter PV cells in domestic properties and small businesses. Recent forecasts from HIS Markit anticipate global residential PV capacity reaching 90GW by 2021, given the intermittent nature of this supply this poses tremendous challenges to utilities trying to generate day-to-day forecasts for the demand on the grid.

As this microgeneration is typically installed at the distribution network level, calculating its impact on demand reduction is especially difficult for TSOs who lack access to data on the rate of uptake and the performance of this type of generation.

Phoenix Forums’ research carried out with a cross-section of transmission and distribution network operators from across Europe has revealed that most utilities are aware of the need to evolve and have begun taking steps to do so. However, many are experiencing the pains of early adoption, and have grown disillusioned as initial promises made about the potential of advanced analytics are yet to come to fruition.

Instead, there are common problems with data quality, lack of standardization, and an uphill battle to build the foundations to extract full value from the data. Take again the example of smart meters, the adoption of which is increasing throughout Europe. The data provided by these meters should empower utilities to be able to make better predictions of day-to-day demand; help automate the planning, upgrading, and maintenance of the network based on likely consumption; more accurately target responses to unexpected losses in the grid; and understand the impact of new assets being connected to their network.

Instead, organizations are facing hurdles end-to-end in accessing and interfacing with the meter communications network; integrating Meter Data Management Systems to interface with their other data systems; and understanding the regulatory requirements in place to protect sensitive customer information.

These utilities need guidance to help them make the leap from the investments they’ve made into new data capabilities to implementing high-value use cases. There are many fantastic examples where network operators have made real progress and there are proven results to back this up.

Steps must now be taken to ensure that these successes become the rule, rather than the exception – this means collaborating and sharing experience so that previous mistakes can be avoided, and wins can be duplicated. Vendors must support utilities to walk before they can run by ensuring the necessary groundwork is in place to allow networks to maximize their returns and remain flexible and robust to meet new data challenges. Only through this concerted and collaborative effort can the energy industry realize a future where sustainable innovations are fully integrated.

Learn more about countering global utility challenges at www.gridanalytics-europe.com 

Robin Sarfas is the Conference Producer at Phoenix Forums. He began his career in conference production working on strategic events predominantly in the UK Energy sector but also in Financial Services in Asia-Pacific. Since moving to Phoenix Forums he has been focussing on technical subject matter related to the Smart Grid, in particular exploring how utilities can do more with their data. Robin has a Masters in Engineering from the University of Cambridge, Corpus Christi College.