Smart Grid, Part 3: The Intersection of the Power and ICT Fields

The next area to consider is how ICT technologies are applied to improve transmission and distribution grids. There are some differences between transmission and distribution networks, including:

  • The distribution grid is much longer than the transmission grid. The total length of the transmission lines in the U.S. is about 300,000 kilometers (roughly 186,000 miles), while the distribution grid runs several thousands of miles.
  • The transmission network carries power at high voltage (xx V). The distribution grid carries a much lower level of voltage ( xx V).
  • In general, the transmission grid is more reliable, having rigorous monitoring and control by means of sophisticated computer systems. However, little monitoring is done for the distribution grid, which is aging rapidly without replacements.

Even though the two networks are very different, each requires managing and controlling functions like supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA).The two SCADA systems are not identical. ABB’s website has a good description of each.

SCADA/EMS (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition/Energy Management System) supervises, controls, optimizes and manages generation and transmission systems.

SCADA/DMS (Distribution Management System) performs the same functions for power distribution networks.

Both systems were developed with many modern ICT technologies. Measured and collected data must be transmitted in real time. The improvement in sensor technologies, semiconductors, embedded systems, communications technologies, sophisticated software, and more has contributed to the availability of these systems. Also, IP is becoming the network protocol of choice over proprietary ones. Of course, an extensive power industry and power engineering are required to develop these systems. System integrators with domain knowledge in power, like, perhaps, Perot Systems (recently acquired by Dell), are good candidates to develop and maintain SCADA systems, in addition to ABB, which is an expert in power and control systems.

SCADA use in transmission lines is very common, but there are at least half a dozen versions used in the transmission network, according to Peter Fox-Penner.

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This prevents the players in the transmission network from sharing the status of the networks in real time. Moreover, another big improvement in this field is the addition of synchrophasor technology (also known as phasor measurement units). This technology may belong to power engineering but not to IT. However, with the improvement in the technologies I mentioned above (regarding the advancement of SCADA), this technology is now better and available.

On the other hand, the use of SCADA in distribution has just begun. In recent blog posts and articles, some analysts are starting to say that utilities should work on improving the distribution network because the end-to-end network is in place (or being put in place), connecting generation to consumption.

This article mentions Current Group, which provides real-time sensing and control technologies, which fall into IT technologies.

I accept that the transmission and distribution field is oriented more toward power engineering than toward ICT. However, it is also true that the improvement in many ICT technologies has helped advance the transmission and distribution technologies.

Zen Kishimoto

About Zen Kishimoto

Seasoned research and technology executive with various functional expertise, including roles in analyst, writer, CTO, VP Engineering, general management, sales, and marketing in diverse high-tech and cleantech industry segments, including software, mobile embedded systems, Web technologies, and networking. Current focus and expertise are in the area of the IT application to energy, such as smart grid, green IT, building/data center energy efficiency, and cloud computing.

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