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A Look into the Heart of the DSO: Sun Qi's First Day as an Intern

Doug Houseman's picture
Visionary and innovator in the utility industry and grid modernization Burns & McDonnell

I have a broad background in utilities and energy. I worked for Capgemini in the Energy Practice for more than 15 years. During that time I rose to the position of CTO of the 12,000 person...

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  • Nov 8, 2016

Sun Qi is the new intern with a master’s degree in Power Engineering at the DSO in California and is being introduced around on his first day.

His first stop of the day is with the customer portal team, who are running the statistics from the overnight operation of the portal and looking at the status of all of the feeds to the customer portal. The portal team confirms that the updates for interconnect requests, the updated large customer capabilities and the circuit maps for where storage, demand side management, and distributed generation are desired, all uploaded correctly. The map for planned outages did not upload correctly and the team starts to work on getting the upload fixed, so Sun moves on.

Sun visits with the interconnection team, a role he is seriously considering, and sees that the incoming requests from yesterday have all been sorted by location, size, and the circuit’s capability to accept more distributed generation. The team leader comments that of the interconnection requests that were received yesterday, that out of the automated quick reviews, 70% can be approved without further review, 5% will not work as submitted and the other 25% need more detailed studies and will be complete by mid-day for review by the planning team. In a couple of cases there are large PV arrays that are competing for the same hosting capacity, so the planning team will need to do a trade-off analysis, and probably propose changes to both. 

The new storage analysis study service is running well and Sun gets a chance to see how storage capacity and cycling is being used to increase the maximum hosting capacity for the circuits and their phases. With California’s statutory goals to increase the total distributed generation capacity to 40% of total energy consumed in the state, the automated study systems make a major difference in the speed of processing and the accuracy of the information. 

Sun then walks down the hall to the meteorology team and looks in on the debate around where a new micro-climate weather station should be placed. On the screen is a heat map of the accuracy of the current profiles and individual premise forecasts. The team, trying to stay within budget and find the right placement, are discussing an area where the inaccuracy is reducing DER hosting capacity and has caused a number of alarms for the operators over the last year. The team continues the discussion while Sun moves along.

Next Sun walks into the contracts and economics team conference room, in time to hear the end of the call with the CA ISO, on the expectations for market prices and available generation for the next few days. One of the CA ISO meteorology team is speaking to one of the DSO meteorologists about projected cloud cover for the next few days. As they debate, the rest of the team is looking at the projected wholesale prices on an hourly basis for the next 48 hours, there is a clear pattern with the wholesale price going negative at 1 PM each of the next two days, so the team talks about storage cycling and grid flexibility during those times. 

The team turns back to the pricing models and starts working on a general wholesale delivery price.  A large monitor shows all of the substations and the local price modifier for each substation. On some of the more imbalanced feeders, it shows them by phase, by feeder. Since the next two days will be moderate, the local price modifiers are not greatly different, except for some of the highly imbalanced phases. The team turns to talking about how customers will respond and which programs are likely to get the most favorable customer reaction. The team is working with different economic forecasts and simulations, as the numbers at the top of the monitor wall change, showing the impact on customers of the programs, prices and overall imports of power. While they continue to refine the scenarios for the next two days Sun moves along. 

Next down the hallway in a conference room are some of the asset managers, using a new service that shows the number of hours that assets have been overheated, by class of asset. The team is reviewing the asset classes to decide if they need to prioritize. The team is working through pad mounted transformers, looking at the impact on transformer life from various analytics that look at different overheating periods, both short term and over the lifetime. One of the analytics is using the accurate grid model to add up loads for transformers that do not have sensors, and provide an analog for the actual temperature of the transformer. One team member is running actual transformer failures against the results of the analytics to get a sanity check from the new analytics that the team has been running over the last few weeks. One engineer explains to Sun that the analytics engine is easy enough to use that the team experiments with new analytics and visualizations almost every week, discarding the useless ones and building on the good ones with very impact on the staff’s time.

Sun thanks the engineer and walks down to the viewing gallery for the operations floor and looks at the walls full of monitors. Both geospatial and schematic views are on the wall, including in both cases, locations of crews, current outages, and other overlays. It is clear that some of the engineers on the floor have other overlays on their monitors. Some of the dispatchers and operators are clearly focused on specific actions, but one of the economists (Sun is pleased each seat has a sign over it) is running a power flow simulation that seems to have a monetary overlay, something that Sun has not seen before. Sun smiles thinking about financial trumping Ohm’s Law. 

Sun continues along, pleased he came in early on his first day and walks down to the supervisor’s office to discuss his intern rotation. Sun has already determined that no matter how the rotation goes, there is a lot to do, and a lot to learn. 

This is the third in a three-part series. Read the first two here:


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