Distribution Grid Model Management Matters – and a new architecture makes it easier

Posted to EPRI in the Utility Management Group
Pat Brown's picture
Technical Executive, Information & Communication Technologies EPRI

Pat Brown is a Technical Executive with EPRI working in the Information & Communication Technology Program of the Power Delivery and Utilization (PDU) Sector. 

  • Member since 2007
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  • Oct 11, 2021

Managing models of distribution grids can be nearly as important as building the grid itself. The electric power industry has come a long way from analog computers. Today utilities use digital tools to analyze present and future grid conditions. But, despite quantum advances, describing the grid to be simulated is tough. Like so many things in this world, creating an accurate distribution grid model is imperfect. There is plenty of room for improvement. 

For starters, most utilities have GIS-based management of facility data. This data serves as the single source of truth for grid models. Source data is created and organized around facility design and work rather than electric system analysis. A modern GIS supports an array of extremely valuable geospatial analysis and visualization functions. When grid analysis is required, the usual practice is to extract a backbone model from the incomplete facility-oriented data, make it compatible with analytical tools, and supplement it with tools as necessary. 

If it sounds complex and prone to error, that’s because it is. And in addition to being an imperfect process, the complexity adds to the cost. In such an environment, companies often explore ‘band-aid’ solutions that temporarily contain cost and kick the can with long-term data structure improvements – and costs – down the road.

There is more. The business requirements of distribution systems, which have largely been dormant for decades, are coming to life as an area of active change. The industry disaggregated utility structure, enabled distributed privately-owned energy resources, and implemented field automation. And it created new markets and made its meters smart. And now, the electric grid is seen as a critical solution component in combatting climate change. Solar and wind energy, battery storage, electric vehicles, and microgrids demand new tools. Expectations are increasing, and that requires different thinking about how utilities plan and operate distribution grids.

Electric Power Research Institute’s (EPRI’s) Grid Model Data Management project has focused on developing a new foundation for managing the grid model data critical to the electric distribution industry. Combining the efforts and perspectives of utilities, vendors, and world-class integration experts, EPRI created the Grid Model Management information architecture to guide utilities in implementing effective, enterprise-wide model management.

The Grid Model Management information architecture does several things. First, it uses a grid model management function that converts the facility records information into the Common Information Model-based (CIM-based) model. It then provides CIM-based exports to distribution analytical consumers in planning and operations. The result? A single complex transformation between facility records and CIM-network modeling into the grid model manager. This process then supports the creation of many network models that can each be provided to various consuming applications. More importantly, this approach frames these interfaces in a form that allows vendor product support on all sides. Finally, it reduces the utility’s burden to maintain custom interfaces.

The Grid Management Model information architecture allows interfaces that leverage CIM-based data exchanges as ‘building blocks.’ It further articulates best practice approaches for designing data management solutions based on them. These same ‘building blocks’ give distribution utilities the flexibility to design their own grid model data management solutions to meet local requirements. It also provides vendors repeatable standards for interfaces on their tools. This model frees them to focus on product enhancements instead of more custom solutions.

The Grid Management Model is disruptive. It requires utilities to take ownership of their data and actively manage data flows between applications. It means changes to process and technology. But it also holds the potential for major improvements in efficiency and analysis reliability. No more band-aids. No more kicking the can down the road for someone else to solve. Instead, utilities can now build a solid data management foundation that will ultimately reduce costs while optimizing grid reliability. In addition, it supports grid safety and contributes to carbon reduction goals. For utilities, Grid Model Management is a major win.

Read more about EPRI’s Grid Management Model here.

Founded in 1972, EPRI is the world's preeminent independent, non-profit energy research and development organization, with offices around the world.
Jens Dalsgaard's picture
Jens Dalsgaard on Nov 5, 2021

Spot on. Thanks for the work and for the article, Pat

Pat Brown's picture
Thank Pat for the Post!
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