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Today’s utility companies are being driven to upgrade their aging transmission and distribution networks in the face of escalating energy generation costs, serious environmental challenges and rising demand for cleaner, distributed generation from both developing and digital economies worldwide.

The current utilities environment requires companies to drive down costs while increasing their ability to monitor and control utility assets. Yet, due to aging infrastructure, many utilities operate without the benefit of real-time usage and distribution loads – while also contending with limited resources for repair and improvement. Even consumers, with climate change on their minds, are demanding that utilities find more innovative ways to help them reduce energy consumption and costs.

One of the key challenges facing the industry is how to take advantage of new technologies to better manage customer service delivery today and into the future. While introducing this new technology, utilities must keep data and networks secure to be in compliance with critical infrastructure protection regulations. The concept of “service management” for the smart grid provides an approach for getting started.

A Smart Grid

A smart grid is created with new solutions that enable new business models. It brings together processes, technology and business partners, empowering utilities with an IP-enabled, continuous sensing network that overlays and connects a utility’s equipment, devices, systems, customers, partners and employees. A smart grid also enables on-demand access to data and information, which is used to better manage, automate and optimize operations and processes throughout the utility.

A utility relies on numerous systems, which reside both within and outside their physical boundaries. Common internal systems include: energy trading systems (ETS), customer information systems (CIS), supervisory control and data acquisition systems (SCADA), outage management systems (OMS), enterprise asset management (EAM); mobile workforce management systems (MWFM), geospatial information systems (GIS) and enterprise resource planning systems (ERP).

These systems are purchased from multiple vendors and often use a variety of protocols to communicate. In addition, utilities must interface with external systems – and often integrate all of them using a point-to-point model and establish connectivity on an as-needed basis. The point-to-point approach can result in numerous complex connections that need to be maintained.

Service Management

The key concept behind service management is the idea of managing assets, networks and systems to provide a “service,” as opposed to simply operating the assets. For example, Rolls Royce Civil Aerospace division uses this concept to sell “pounds of thrust” as a service. Critical to a utility’s operation is the ability to manage all facets of the services being delivered. Also critical to the operation of the smart grid are new solutions in advanced meter management (AMM), network automation and analytics, and EAM, including meter asset management.

A service management platform provides a way for utility companies to manage the services they deliver with their enterprise and information technology assets. It provides a foundation for managing the assets, their configuration, and the interrelationships key to delivering services. It also provides a means of defining workflow for the instantiation and management of the services being delivered. Underlying this platform is a range of tools that can assist in management of the services.

Gathering and analyzing data from advanced meters, network components, distribution devices, and legacy SCADA systems provides a solid foundation for automating service management. When combined with the information available in their asset management systems, utility companies can streamline operations and make more efficient use of valuable resources.

Advanced Reading

AMM centers on a more global view of the informational infrastructure, examining how automatic meter reading (AMR) and advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) integrate with other information systems to provide value-added benefits. It is important to note that for many utilities, AMM is considered to be a “green” initiative since it has the ability to influence customer usage patterns and, therefore, lower peak demand.

The potential for true business transformation exists through AMM, and adopting this solution is the first stage in a utility’s transformation to a more information-powered business model. New smart meters are network addressable, and along with AMM, are core components of the grid. Smart meters and AMM provide the capability to automatically collect usage data in near real time and to transport meter reads at regular intervals or on demand.

AMR/AMIs that aggregate their data in collection servers or concentrators, and expose it through an interface, can be augmented with event management products to monitor the meter’s health and operational status. Many organizations already deploy these solutions for event management within a network’s operations center environments, and for consolidated operations management as a top-level “manager of managers.”

A smart grid includes many devices other than meters, so event management can also be used to monitor the health of the rest of the network and IT equipment in the utility infrastructure. Integrating meter data with operations events gives network operations center operators a much broader view of a utility’s distribution system.

These solutions enable end-to-end data integration, from the meter collection server in a substation to the back-end helpdesk and billing applications. This approach can lead to improved speed and accuracy of data, while leveraging existing equipment and applications.

Network Automation and Analytics

Most utility companies use SCADA systems to collect data from sensors on the energy grid and send events to applications with SCADA interfaces. These systems collect data from substations, power plants and other control centers. They then process the data and allow for control actions to be sent back out. Energy management and distribution management systems typically provide additional features on top of SCADA, targeting either the transmission or distribution grids.

SCADA systems are often distributed on several servers (anywhere from two to 100) connected via a redundant local area network. The SCADA system, in turn, communicates with remote terminal units (RTUs), other devices, and other computer networks. RTUs reside in a substation or power plant, and are hardwired to other devices to bring back meaningful information such as current megawatts, amps, volts, pressure, open/closed or tripped. Distribution business units within a utility company also utilize SCADA systems to track low voltage applications, such as meters and pole drops, compared to the transmission business units’ larger assets, including towers, circuits and switchgear.

To facilitate network automation, IT solutions can help utilities to monitor and analyze data from SCADA systems in real time, monitor the computer network systems used to deploy SCADA systems, and better secure the SCADA network and applications using authentication software. An important element of service management is the use of automation to perform a wide range of actions to improve workfl ow efficiency. Another key ingredient is the use of service level agreements (SLAs) to give a business context for IT, enabling greater accountability to business user needs, and improving a utility’s ability to prioritize and optimize.

A smart grid includes a large number of devices and meters – millions in a large utility – and these are critical to a utility’s operations. A combination of IT solutions can be deployed to manage events from SCADA devices, as well as the IT equipment they rely on.

EAM For Utilities

Historically, many utility companies have managed their assets in silos. However, the emergence of the smart grid and smart meters, challenges of an aging workforce, an ever-demanding regulatory environment, and the availability of common IT architecture standards, are making it critical to standardize on one asset management platform as new requirements to integrate physical assets and IT assets arise (see Figure 1).

Today, utility companies are using EAM to manage work in gas and electric distribution operations, including construction, inspections, leak management, vehicles and facilities. In transmission and substation, EAM software is used for preventative and corrective maintenance and inspections.

EAM also helps track financial assets such as purchasing, depreciation, asset valuation and replacement costs. This solution helps integrate this data with ERP systems, and stores the history of asset testing and maintenance management. It integrates with GIS or other mapping tools to create geographic and spatial views of all distribution and smart grid assets.

Meter asset management is another area of increasing interest, as meters have an asset lifecycle similar to most other assets in a utility. Meter asset management involves tracking the meter from receipt to storeroom, to truck, to final location – as compared to managing the data the meter produces.

Now there is an IT asset management solution with the ability to manage meters as part of the IT network. This solution can be used to provision the meter, track configurations and provide service desk functionality. IT asset management solutions also have the ability to update meter firmware, and easily move and track the location and status of the assets over time in conjunction with a configuration database.

Reducing the number of truck rolls is another key focus area for utility companies. Using a combination of solutions, companies can:

  • Better manage the lifecycles of physical assets such as meters, meter cell relays, and broadband over powerline (BPL) devices to improve preventive maintenance;
  • Reconcile deployed asset information with information collected by meter data management systems;
  • Correlate the knowledge of physical assets with problems experienced with the IT infrastructure to better analyze a problem for root cause; and
  • Establish more efficient business process workflows and strengthen governance across a company.

Utilities are facing many challenges today and taking advantage of new technologies that will help better manage the delivery of service to customers tomorrow. The deployment of the smart grid and related solutions is a significant initiative that will be driving utilities for the next 10 years or more.

The concept of “service management” for the smart grid provides an approach for getting started. But these do not need to be tackled all at once. Utilities should develop a roadmap for the smart grid; each one will depend on specific priorities. But utilities don’t have to go it alone. The smart grid maturity model (SGMM) can enable a utility to develop a roadmap of activities, investments and best practices to ensure success and progress with available resources.