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Modernizing Grids and Updating Sensor Arrays

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Julian Jackson's picture
Staff Writer, Energy Central, BrightGreen PR

Julian Jackson is a writer whose interests encompass business and technology, cryptocurrencies, energy and the environment, as well as photography and film. His portfolio is here:...

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  • Sep 8, 2021

Electric utilities face a challenging future: the massive growth of Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) is changing the way they operate. As a new, bi-directional grid takes shape, utilities must modernize to deliver power reliably to their customers.

Accurate data will be the driver to succeed in this new environment. Aggressive decarbonization targets ensure that the companies will have to change rapidly. This is compounded by the recent FERC 222 mandate which creates a level playing field so DER assets can compete with traditional electric resources.

In addition, more EVs are connecting to the grid – which can be utilized as DERS. By 2030, every significant transport manufacturer will have many EV models on the market, including buses and smaller trucks, and there will be a national infrastructure for EV charging stations.


Quality of Data Issues for Grid Digitization


The floods, storms and blackouts hitting developed countries recently reinforce the importance of having a resilient grid. If power companies cannot accurately measure key electricity quality metrics like voltage data, it impacts their ability to detect, minimize, and manage faults like sags and surges appropriately. Also, utilities will need the systems to track the impact of harmonics across their infrastructure.

Tomorrow’s grid will have to be digital. Utilities will need tools that instantly transmit bits and bytes of real-time data instead of inaccurate analog information from old sensors that are prone to damage or destruction in the most severe weather conditions brought about by climate disruption.

Digital sensors will be needed to accurately measure the operations of the grid in real-time. Optical sensors are emerging as the “gold standard” of precision monitoring methods, with testing up to 0.5% accuracy on both voltage and current. Using sensors with a sampling rate of 15,000 samples per cycle provides better insight into the grid, which will be needed to manage the integration of renewables and DERs. Optical sensor equipment is less prone to overheating and sudden failures.

Utilities and TSOs will need to use Advanced Distribution Automation Systems (ADMS) and Distribution Energy Resource Management Systems (DERMS) in grid operations. Integrated digital tools will be needed to measure and monitor more of the grid in real-time.

Clearly, the legacy technology of yesterday will be insufficient for the future transition. Future-proofing the grid means more than updating wires and adding bi-directional capacity. It also means detecting, measuring, and understanding the intricate interactions at each point in the system to control a powerful yet delicate web of connections between active participants. This is the future if the industry is to combat the climate crisis successfully.


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