Navigant Research Blog

Utilities Send in the Drones

— February 19, 2015

Your local electric utility may be the next company to deploy unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), a.k.a. drones, in your community. Transmission and distribution utilities are planning to deploy fleets of drones for power line inspections in order to more rapidly identify foliage encroachments on power lines, storm damage, and overloading in both urban and remote areas.

These types of inspections typically have been completed using manned helicopters. Since the Northeast blackout in 2003, North American electric utilities have spent millions to fly helicopters over their power lines to meet new grid reliability standards. Drones offer a cheaper and more reliable alternative.

At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) show in Las Vegas, a whole section of the exhibit floor was devoted to drone technologies. Forward-thinking utilities have picked up that point.

What They Need to Know

A recent article in Electric Light & Power discussed the utilization of light-reflecting imaging technologies that create 3D images of the environment, called Lidar, to more thoroughly monitor electric transmission rights-of-way. According to Duke Energy, “Lidar’s 3-D models tell us everything we need to know about loading on our lines and nearby encroachments.”

Innovative electric transmission and distribution operators have been working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to utilize UAVs across their systems. However, utilities won’t be piloting drones until the FAA finalizes rules that govern their safe operations in the National Airspace System. The FAA planned to finalize those rules by 2015 but is not expected to meet that deadline. Utility proponents suggest UAVs can make the nation’s infrastructure more reliable and secure, perhaps warranting an FAA exemption.

Unmanned Pilots

A number of pilot demonstrations of UAV applications and use cases have been occurring across the United States, notably with Duke Energy on the East Coast and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) in the west. The use cases for UAVs are not limited to transmission and distribution power line inspection; they also include critical functions such as:

  • Solar PV panel inspections to identify damages to PV panels and schedule maintenance across thousands of panels. UAVs can find individual damaged solar panels amid thousands by using thermal imaging to detect anomalous heat signatures.
  • High-risk jobs like scanning a wind turbine blade for cracks 400 feet in the air without human intervention.
  • Improved power restoration efforts in the aftermath of major storms. For example, in 2012, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) suggested drones could assess damage and help bucket trucks and line technicians prioritize power restoration.

In 2014, the FAA granted SDG&E an experimental certificate, also known as a Special Airworthiness Certificate, for UAVs. That certificate allows SDG&E to use drones for research, testing, and training flights in lightly populated airspace in eastern San Diego County. “The unmanned aircraft system provides us with another tool in our electric and gas operations tool chest,” said Dave Geier, SDG&E’s vice president of electric transmission and system engineering.

 

India’s Power Sector Moves into the 21st Century

— January 14, 2015

In December, ABB announced a $55 million project win in the Indian states of Behar and West Bengal.  ABB will install both transmission and distribution (T&D) substations, incorporating ABB substation technologies with fiber optic telecommunications systems and new substation automation systems.  As a part of an overall goal to meet growing demand, improve access, and reduce losses, the facilities will support generation and other transmission investments in Northern India.  And ABB isn’t alone – big wins in India have also been announced by Alstom and Tata Consulting Agency.

India has seen a lot of activity in terms of electric infrastructure investment over recent years, and the nation is on its way to becoming a global leader in the installation of smart grid technologies.  As my colleague James McCray describes, these Investments are benefiting from several large-scale efforts to expand electrification, reduce the environmental impacts of generation, and decrease power system losses.  In 2009, The World Bank and POWERGRID (India’s transmission operator) introduced the Fifth Power System Development Project, a series of transmission investment projects set up to bolster India’s then-troubled economy through providing resources for industrial and agricultural enterprises.   Now in its fifth year, the planned $16 billion program has funded regional projects in both Northern and Southern India.

Acceleration

In terms of expanding and updating its distribution grid, India’s central government has begun the second stage of its Restructured Accelerated Power Development and Reform Programme (also known as R-APDRP).   This two-phase project has supported individual state utilities in an initial stage of data gathering for information and planning, as well as the aforementioned second stage of new grid construction and upgrades, including advanced metering infrastructure and distribution automation rollouts.  Investments under this plan are expected to total around $10 billion.

If you haven’t noticed yet, the sums of money involved are tremendous.  The global smart grid market for distribution was forecast at $15 billion in 2014, indicating that if India is allocating between $10 to $20 billion (of the $26 billion total for T&D) over the course of a few years, that would make the country one of the world’s largest spenders, the United States, Western Europe, and China.  Yet, India’s Power Minister, Piyush Goyal, stated in November that India needed to put even more into its T&D infrastructure – $50 billion over the next 5 years.

The Big Shift

India has several primary drivers for investment: growing demand and a need to increase electrification; reduction of fossil fuel consumption (the majority of India’s electricity is coal-fired according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and the country wants to install more solar); and reliability (India has suffered heavily from rolling blackouts in recent years).  At the moment, India’s grid is constrained due to limited and aging infrastructure – some estimate that generation plants are utilized as little as 70% because of this.

Investing in new infrastructure and smart grid projects, India is targeting efficiency while simultaneously extending its grid.   For the time being, India will increase coal-fired capacity to meet its demand challenges, but the country is also promoting renewables both directly (through government investment) and indirectly as it improves its transmission infrastructure.  With these investments and states such as Gujarat leading the way in progressively supporting renewables, it is possible that India could soon shift from an underdeveloped energy infrastructure heavily dependent on fossil fuels to a leading example of clean and efficient energy at a national scale.

 

India’s Faulty Grid Presents A Transmission Opportunity

— January 12, 2015

Many of us here in the United States have little appreciation for the tremendous size and opportunity for electric transmission and distribution system technologies in the Asia Pacific region.  To use Geoffrey Moore’s analogies regarding how technology markets develop, there are the 500-pound gorillas, two or three followers, and a number of other wannabes.

Taking that metaphor to the regional market level, the Asia Pacific market has two significant gorilla countries, India and China, some followers like Japan, Australia, and Indonesia, and then the other wannabe countries.  Electric transmission technology vendors have an opportunity-rich environment across the region, but the sheer scale of the opportunities and the sophisticated plans in India and China present the biggest gorillas.  To illustrate this point, I’ll focus on India, where the national transmission planning process is most transparent.

The 1.2 Billion

India currently has a population of 1,264,360,000 people, representing 17.5% of the world’s population, or 386 people per km2, of which only an estimated 30% have electricity.  The country’s landmass is approximately 3,287,263.00 km2, which is about half the size of the United States.  India currently has over 220 gigawatts (GW) of generation capacity, a number that is expected to grow to 425 GW in 2022, with the addition of up to 66,000 kilometers of transmission lines and 90 new substations.  Most of the current electric transmission system in India is in the 135 kilovolt (kV) to 450 kV range, and it has significant reliability issues due to weather, introduction of intermittent renewables, and aging infrastructure.

The fascinating point here is that Power Grid India, the national transmission system operator, is now building out a high-voltage transmission superhighway that will serve as the backbone for India’s rapidly expanding transmission and distribution grid.  This plan is exceptional because of the use of extra-high-voltage 800 kV high-voltage direct current (HVDC) and 765 kV high-voltage alternating current (HVAC) systems – on a scale seen nowhere on the globe except in China.  The following graphic shows the overall configuration.

Planned HVTSs under Implementation, India

(Source: Power Grid Corp.  of India Ltd.)

The Way Forward

Adding to the tremendous scale, India is specifying and using the latest technologies, including state-of-the-art flexible AC transmission system (FACTS) devices such as static VAR compensators (SVCs) and static synchronous compensator (STATCOMs) that are still controversial in some regions in North America, such as PJM, as well as synchrophasor and wide area situational awareness (SWASA) technologies and solutions to better manage the transmission grid in real-time.  These technologies and markets are discussed in a series of Navigant Research reports from 2014, including Flexible AC Transmission Systems and High Voltage Transmission Systems.

India recently deployed over 1,300 phasor measurement units (PMUs), giving the country one of the largest current PMU deployments in the world, showing leadership in advancing these new and powerful technologies.

For the big three electric transmission technology companies, ABB, GE/Alstom, and Siemens, as well as the other technology companies like Schneider, S&C, Mitsubishi, Toshiba, and other new entrants, the rapid expansion of India’s transmission system represents a tremendous revenue opportunity.  For the population of India, it represents electrification on a large scale a much more reliable and resilient power grid – and a path to a much higher standard of living.

 

Outage Management Technology Looks to an Integrated Future

— December 30, 2014

First deployed in the 1970s, outage management systems (OMSs) were originally designed to incorporate outage notifications from external sources to create a map view of the outage and generate an optimized power restoration plan.  Today, with smart grids revolutionizing power delivery through telecommunications and automation, OMSs have evolved into something much more sophisticated.  However, it’s also become less and less clear what an OMS actually is.

Conventional OMSs understand the outage, determine the correct course of action to take, and issue switching orders for the control room operator and/or distribution management or supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system.  Though these systems can be linked, each one typically maintains a separate database, meaning that no system holds a complete understanding of the network state or restoration process.  Now, vendors are combining outage management with distribution management and SCADA, creating what is often called an advanced distribution management system (ADMS).  Incorporating a single system map and database, ADMSs can manage the engineering grid with the restoration process in real time, resulting in faster, more informed action to restore power.

Real-Time Resilience

On the communications side, new OMSs may integrate real-time, two-way information from the customer call center, the interactive voice response (IVR) system, smart meters, mobile crews, and even social media.  This enables the system to update itself immediately upon the reception of outside information and exchange pertinent notifications and updates with mobile crews and customers.  Again, OMSs have traditionally not managed these different communications media; they’ve only exchanged limited information with them.  Now, due to proliferating open standards, the pace of this exchange has increased, and new platforms, such as social media, are increasingly involved.

Analytics solutions represent another game-changer for OMSs and grid resiliency/reliability efforts.  Analytics technology combines notifications, voltage readings, and outside sources, such as weather, to inform preventive maintenance efforts, increase the accuracy of damage assessment, and improve the efficiency of the restoration plan.  Analytics systems can be integrated into a combined DMS/OMS/SCADA, ADMS, or purchased as a separate overlay to enhance systems.

All Together Now

Navigant Research expects growth for standalone OMSs to decline as more utilities adopt ADMS strategies, but market demand for improved reliability and lowering outage costs will continue to drive adoption of products and services to support advanced outage management — analytics, customer engagement tools, and distribution automation. As Navigant Research’s report, Outage Management Systems, makes clear, these systems certainly aren’t what they used to be.  Not only are they more dynamic, reliable, and flexible, but they’re also used by utilities in new ways that require traditionally siloed departments that manage engineering, operations, and communications to work closely together.

Not all utilities will adopt a full ADMS solution from a single vendor—it’s likely that many will configure systems in a more integrated fashion and will move toward a combined management philosophy, where outage management is one application within a platform that manages operations, engineering, and even customer engagement during events.

 

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