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A Beginner's Guide to Starting a Smart Grid Implementation

Published on 11/21/2016 | Technology

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Syed Saad Qasim

I am a dynamic Energy Systems and Management professional with five years of experience in consulting, business process analysis, process re-engineering and managing cross-functional teams.

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Overview

In most power utilities around the world, operations are divided into Generation, Transmission and Distribution. Some utilities are responsible for only Distribution, some deal with both Transmission and Distribution and some have all three. A Smart Grid is a modern, upgraded network infrastructure that uses communication technology for computer-based remote control and automation. With Smart Grids, both the Transmission and Distribution business areas can benefit from real-time network data and load information.

A smart grid implementation should be undertaken only once the company has a clear vision of the final result. Depending on the scope, size and quality of the existing network and the number of new smart devices, the budget required for a Smart Grid implementation can be prohibitively expensive. Consulting fees, project team hiring, meetings with vendors, hardware and software costs for IT systems, Smart device costs and related recurring costs must all be taken into account. All stakeholders must be identified beforehand, including consultants, internal leaders, project sponsors, Steering Committee members and key users from various departments. The roles and responsibilities of each stakeholder should be clearly defined from the outset, in order to prevent issues down the road.

Design Phase

The Design phase requires a thorough review and analysis of As-Is Processes, while taking into account differing practices in different areas or even within the same department. Ground realities may well result in company Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) being ignored. Like any large business-driven project, a Smart Grid implementation is a chance to reset the clock, and implement international best practices within the utility. Each company has different agendas when implementing Smart Grids, ranging from theft detection and improving recovery to better compliance with Health, Safety and Environment standards. Various organizations have created standards for Smart Grid systems such as NIST, IEC, ISO ZigBee, IEEE, HomePlug, etc.

Within the scope of the project, the team members can be divided into functional and technical teams for IT, PMO, HT and LT network experts. Depending on the project scope, experts with domain knowledge of Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), Utility Management SoftwareSmart Meter BillingOutage and Network Management SoftwareNetwork Management, Server administration, Geographical Information System (GIS), Middleware and SCADA may be required. The objectives of the project have to be aligned with the systems already in place, where some functions of existing software and hardware may be replaced by completely new software and hardware and the role of Change Management in handling the transition is crucial.

During the design stage, terminologies and technical jargon needs to be documented and explained to all stakeholders so that there is a common understanding of each term that may be used during the project. Often, consultants in meetings will express surprise that a phrase has a different meaning internationally than the one used by the client utility company. Details such as units, naming conventions, language requirements, user licenses and data volume and server sizing is usually done at this stage.

Solution Selection

The smart grid consists of sensors within the grid that differentiates it from a conventional grid. Whether this consists of smart meters, smart switches, network capable circuit breakers or just voltage and current sensors on power lines, selecting the right products from the multitude of options available on the market can be a challenge. This is compounded by the fact that there are varying smart grid standards across the world, so the utility has to find products that will suit their regional specifications, will be readily available, will fit the project budget and most importantly will guarantee compatibility with the selected smart grid software and hardware.

Ideally, the solution architect will propose a solution that works out of the box, including processing sensor readings, feedback control, GIS integration, Network and Outage management. Collecting the smart meter readings to measure energy consumption and use it for billing the consumers can be relatively painless, if the Utility Information System and the Smart Grid solution are compatible by design.

This article was originally posted on LinkedIn.

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