What is a mid-size distribution utility’s biggest concern? According to our in-depth interviews with mid-size distribution utilities located around the world, the answer is overwhelmingly power reliability. To improve in this area, distribution utilities reported focusing on digital technology for reducing outage duration (SAIDI) and outage frequency (SAIFI), more accurately locating outages, and faster power restoration.
The distribution utilities we interviewed reported that these were their most frequently used reliability improvement strategies, based on geography:
- United States: Our American interviewees said they were improving reliability by digitizing operations and enhancing network automation for increased observability and more stability, as well as modernizing aging infrastructure.
- Australia: Our Australian interviewees also reported a strong interest in digitizing operations, with a special emphasis on Advanced Distribution Management Systems (ADMS), Outage Management Systems (OMS), and Distributed Energy Resource Management Systems (DERMS).
- Europe: European utilities display a patchwork of priorities but share certain common goals around real-time network observability and automation. Italy and France express interest in ADMS, while small German and Nordic utilities outlined their needs for more insight into the LV/MV parts of their networks.
The key similarity in all regions is that distribution utilities seek power reliability improvements through the adoption of smart, connected digital technology solutions and by putting digitization to work for a more reliable and resilient grid.
If there is a grid issue, such as stress from fluctuating capacity, or lack of visibility, power reliability problems will undoubtedly follow. Therefore it’s no surprise that smart grid solutions, which encompass a number of technologies, including sensors and intelligent electronic devices for substation automaton, outage management systems, and advanced distribution management systems (ADMS), are being embraced as ways to improve reliability. They help utilities to predict and prevent outages, give them better situational awareness of their networks, and improve efficiency and uptime across their perimeters.
If we zoom in on outage management systems (OMS), for example, we see that they improve distribution utilities’ outage response, thus reducing SAIDI and SAIFI. The interviewed distribution utilities that have adopted outage management systems are using the technology to reduce downtime because it can accurately pinpoint a fault’s location for repair crews and determine the cause of the issue. The OMS technology integrates real-time information from devices such as smart meters and sensors as well as call center data and has the capability of resupplying power by reconfiguring the flow of electricity to the affected areas of the distribution network.
Or if we look at ADMS users, for example, we see utilities getting impressive results in SAIDI and SAIFI. These systems represent a convergence of technologies providing a comprehensive network management solution with monitoring, analysis, control, optimization, planning and training tools all sharing a common infrastructure, data model, and user experience. The end results is a powerful centralized platform whose use spans network management from normal operations to emergencies, greatly simplifying the work of grid operators to the benefit of their customers.
As we’ve found throughout these interviews, smart, digital technologies help distribution utilities achieve their main mission of providing a reliable electricity supply that meets their customers’ electricity needs. To learn more about the strategies they use to overcome their challenges, download our report How Mid-Size Distribution Utilities Face Disruption.