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Grid Modernization 2020: Pushing Boundaries

image credit: Shutterstock

As we look toward the country’s extensive power grid to fuel the growth of our cities and communities, grid modernization is only as good as the personnel staffing our control rooms.

Control room operations are increasingly disruptive. System operations and the training that supports it must adapt processes and practices to match the pace of modernization and change.

We’ve experienced an explosion of growth in grid technology over the past few years. Public and private partners are tirelessly working to develop new concepts, tools, and technologies needed to measure, analyze, predict, protect, and control the grid of the future. Nevertheless, we can’t help but wonder if system operators are prepared to meet the challenges of modernized technology.

Included on this modernization “wish list” are technologies that impact cybersecurity, energy storage, distributed energy, renewables, remote operations, and contingency analysis – just to name a few. With the growing degree of modernization, it’s important to ensure we have power plant, transmission, and distribution system operators who can manage this complex system. How do we begin to prepare these men and women to keep the lights on as our electric power system faces increasing stress due to fundamental changes in both supply and demand technologies?

The future of system operator training largely depends on the continued development of simulation-based training. To be effective, system operators should participate in simulation-based training with tutorials that anticipate realistic situations. Leading-edge training solutions, such as power plant, distribution, and transmission simulators are now available to integrate in system operations training to enhance human performance and meet the challenges of the modernized grid. 

In The Future of the Professions (2015), Richard and Daniel Susskind identify radical change coming in the way we work, with two possible futures. The first future is familiar and has been in use for ages –professionals will streamline old ways of working. The second future argues that professionals will transform work using increasingly capable machines. Simulation-based training is uniquely positioned to support this transformation.

Relying on our current system operator performance levels, expertise, and routines is simply not enough for system reliability, as our complex system becomes more tightly coupled and technology is increasingly multifaceted and risky. Therefore, a rigorous training program allows system operators to gain relevant information that can help mitigate uncertainty and increase security of the grid. 

Training must be based on adaptability through proactive programs for system operators that teach new technologies, concepts, and tools to analyze, predict, and ultimately make better decisions during emerging conditions. Broader skill sets and state-of-the-art tools equip operators to interpret situations and act quickly. A cross-functional robust and powerful training experience focused on building system operator expertise is essential for system reliability.

Enhanced training is centered on three items of primary importance: (1) changes in the population of the industry; (2) changes in the technology supporting control room and training activities and, finally; (3) enhancing the operator’s ability to recognize and react in real-time to address emergency and abnormal conditions including cyber and physical intrusion into the power system. We expect these changes will impact the processes of organizations as well as their training programs and will encompass organizational level improvement and training program maturity. These enhanced training programs lead to improved human performance and may provide organizations with methods for sustainability as we map out future training for control room personnel. 

In addition, grid modernization, coupled with the changing population of control room operators, is driving current training practices to include shorter training topics and better integration of technology into the training. In addition to simulator-based training, technology improvements include using virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality, and visualization. These new technologies must be evidence-based to help system operators with situation awareness and decision making.

Continuous improvements will be enhanced through maturity of the training programs and human performance/human factor initiatives. By driving the improvements at the organizational and training program levels, we can achieve sustainable programs designed to give operators the skills, knowledge, tools, agile methods, and information to ensure reliable power systems of the future.

A modernized grid of the future, coupled with enhanced, simulation-based training programs will deliver reliable, secure, and sustainable electricity through well-trained, prepared system operators.

Melissa Sease's picture

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Discussions

Dr. Amal Khashab's picture
Dr. Amal Khashab on Jun 21, 2020 11:39 am GMT

Excellent imagination of operation future. But do you think it is time to go towards decentralized control and operation of electric power systems?

Eric Van Orden's picture
Eric Van Orden on Jun 22, 2020 2:26 pm GMT

I think it will be a mix of both, decentralized and centralized. It will depend on what part of the value stream you are talking about (i.e G, T, or D, or grid-edge). And, it will likely involve more insights and communication connections between each of them, that we didn't have before. In any case, from this post, I'm sold that training and simulations are important to prepare and to innovate. 

Ben Ettlinger's picture
Ben Ettlinger on Jun 30, 2020 6:53 pm GMT

Interesting article, but how about some specific use cases that apply to what is being referred to.

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