Navigant Research Blog

High Resolution Sensors Open New Windows onto the Grid

— March 26, 2015

The advances in transmission and distribution (T&D) system sensors, communications, and visualization technology are remarkable. At DistribuTECH 2015, I was able to talk to key vendors in the T&D marketplace, including established players, such as ABB, GE, Landis & Gyr, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories (SEL), and Siemens, as well as emerging companies, such as Genscape on the transmission grid and Tollgrade on the distribution grid, which both offer innovative new monitoring and visualization solutions. These relatively young companies are taking the industry to a next level in sensor technology, wireless communications, and visualization/analytic tools.

While Genscape is a new entrant in the transmission operator/utility marketplace, it operates the world’s largest private network of in-the-field monitors, providing cloud based software as a service (SaaS) applications for market intelligence across the power, oil, natural gas, petrochemical, agriculture, biofuels, and maritime freight sectors. The company’s applications are used by most energy trading companies, and are used to non-intrusively monitor generation plant outputs, outages, and other transmission line conditions.

Unbound

Genscape has a wide range of customers in electric power trading and oil & gas commodity markets.  With the recent acquisition of Promethean Devices in 2014, Genscape also provides high resolution, sub-second transmission line monitoring of current, conductor sag/clearance, conductor temperature, and voltage, using an easy to deploy ground based solar powered sensor system. With the high cost of land-based fiber systems typically installed by utilities, Genscape’s solution offers an elegant and relatively inexpensive cloud-based solution.

Focused primarily on the medium-voltage (MV) and low-voltage (LV) distribution grid, Tollgrade offers bolt-on line sensing units with high speed wireless communications capabilities, as well as a cloud-based SaaS optimization and visualization tool set that can be tied into a utility’s distribution automation system. The company’s fault-detection hardware and predictive analytics software are designed to assist distribution network operators in avoiding network outages and reducing customer downtime. The sensing units are low cost and can be installed by a distribution system lineman in minutes at any location on the distribution system.

The really striking thing about Tollgrade’s technology is the analytics and visualization tools, which can be used to drill down in outage and fault data to screen, locate, and then analyze breaker trips and outages anywhere on the monitored portions of the distribution network in real time.

Both of these companies have the potential to significantly change the level of visibility into T&D grid performance, providing tools for understanding the disturbances that are never seen in the data typically collected by utilities using conventional solutions.

 

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.

 

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