For the most part, the U.S. electric grid has had the same infrastructure in place for more than 50 years. Deployment of smart grid technology has been cautious, with utilities and regulators hedging to see what works through incremental upgrades and pilot projects. Although New York has been aggressive in this modest approach, there will be a need to accelerate investment if extreme weather patterns become the norm. However, the smart grid is not a one-size-fits-all technology; it must be adapted and configured for each user along the energy value chain.

When Thomas Edison provided electric lighting to a few dozen customers in lower Manhattan in 1882, New York became a national leader in electricity service. That first generator and several miles of wiring have grown into an interconnected electricity grid covering the entire continent. Although New York state's infrastructure system for producing and delivering electricity stands among the most reliable and complex in the world — for the future of connecting customers to the generation, transmission and distribution system — the status quo is not acceptable.

The New York State Smart Grid Consortium was founded in 2008 when key energy leaders in New York state determined meaningful progress toward modernization required the inclusion of all stakeholders to define and work toward a common smart grid vision. The primary objective in forming the consortium was to harness the collective efforts of key stakeholders across the state to implement an electric power system that is efficient, secure and reliable, while simultaneously facilitating renewable resources and enabling customers to reduce cost and energy consumption.

Composed of New York's major utilities, operators, industry, academia, government and end users, the New York State Smart Grid Consortium is the only organization of its scale in the U.S. representing all major contributors across the energy value chain, from generation to delivery to end users.

Modernization Challenges

In addition to providing consumers with reliable yet cost-effective power, New York's electric grid must integrate state energy policy initiatives that require increasing amounts of power from solar and wind resources. The variability and unpredictability of wind and solar resources, which can be easily manipulated by natural disasters and the volatility of Mother Nature, complicate the challenge of maintaining reliable delivery of electricity to consumers. By accommodating increasing amounts of distributed generation, the grid will be required to become more bidirectional. To reduce emissions, an increasing number of electric vehicles will be purchased and will rely on the grid for fueling. These large electrical loads could strain some parts of the distribution system.

The state's generation portfolio will change in response to a carbon-constrained future, retirement of existing plants and current historically low natural gas prices. As new generating stations replace old ones, new transmission lines must be built to connect the stations and move the power to load centers. Building new transmission lines is extremely difficult, and some portions of New York's grid are reaching their operational limits and need to be replaced or upgraded. In response to these challenges, the grid needs to become more flexible to accommodate new sources of clean and distributed power while maximizing the use of existing assets and minimizing new additions.

In recent years, climate change has prompted a change in weather patterns, forcing New York to bear the brunt of increasingly warmer temperatures and more damaging storms. With heat waves forcing residents to keep their air conditioning units constantly on the coolest temperature, and recent hurricanes like Irene and Sandy uprooting thousands of trees, toppling utility poles, downing power lines and causing widespread flooding, the grid needs to become more resilient to extreme weather events to minimize extended outages in the future. While the electric industry might not be able to create a grid that can withstand a catastrophic storm that disables and destroys an entire system, it could better manage and react during more benign but more common storms.

In the U.S., about 7% of electricity transmitted is lost annually. The grid must become more efficient by reducing electricity consumption through voltage management, reduced line losses and conservation voltage reduction. New York electricity consumers also need to become more efficient users of electricity, with innovative devices introduced to promote consumer conservation and efficiency.

The challenge for New York is not only to create a more flexible, efficient and resilient grid that spurs economic growth and promotes environmental responsibility, but to do so in the most cost-effective and timely manner possible. Thus, to meet the state's grid modernization challenges will require the deployment of new technologies that will provide necessary benefits:

  • Enhance the situational awareness and control of the grid

  • Improve the grid's self-healing capability

  • Provide more information and tools to help consumers better manage their electricity usage.

Enhanced Situational Awareness

Today, T&D operators see what is happening by monitoring sensors throughout the grid, receiving phone calls from customers and dispatching field crews. Enhancing situational awareness will help operators to better anticipate and recover from severe storms, as well as integrate larger amounts of distributed and renewable generation. There are two primary components of situational awareness: grid visibility and analytic tools to support decision making.

Enhancing the visibility of the grid occurs by installing additional and more precise sensors. In addition, T&D operators need the tools to interpret data, anticipate events and recommend the most effective actions to implement. New York's electric utilities and the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) are deploying a variety of technologies that will enhance the visibility of the grid significantly.

Phasor measurement units (PMUs) are one type of a new high-precision sensor. PMUs measure current and voltage on the grid 30 times per second, which is much more frequent than the sensors installed presently. The NYISO is leading a US$74 million federally funded project to install 39 PMUs at strategic locations across the state. The PMU network will be in place by June 2013 and eventually connect with PMU networks in New England, the Mid-Atlantic, the Midwest and Ontario, Canada, to create broader situational awareness throughout the Eastern U.S. and Canada.

It is anticipated the enhanced wide-area visibility and analytical tools the PMU networks provide will improve reliability by enabling grid operators to better see threats and vulnerabilities in the region. The network also may increase the utilization of existing lines and enable the integration of renewable generation.

Operations and research is using its integrated system model to develop a storm outage prediction system. Prior to a storm and when a storm first impacts a region, the operations and research system will collect data from several sources and forecast the total number of impacted customers. This forecast is valuable for mobilizing resources for storm recovery and is expected to result in quicker, more efficient recovery.

The Long Island Power Authority is installing a new outage management system and distribution management system that will improve its ability to get detailed information from the field about outages and restoration times, which then can be shared with the public. Unfortunately, the system was not fully installed and operational when Hurricane Sandy arrived.

Equipment on the grid is often controlled manually. This requires the grid operator to contact a generating station or substation, or dispatch a field crew to actuate a switch or adjust a setting. In a modern grid, advanced controls and automated response strategies are expected to increase system performance and efficiency.

Consumer-Managed Energy

Historically, power outages along with the monthly utility bill have been the primary interactions between utilities and their customers. Enabling and informing customers represents an important aspect of developing the smart grid. Customers are advocating for choice; they want insight and visibility into the energy choices they are making.

Providing customers with adequate, timely information and options will empower them to manage their energy usage to make informed decisions. The options will come in the form of pricing that more closely reflects the cost of delivering energy, simple interoperable equipment and network automation to manage their energy costs. In essence, customers will become active participants within the grid instead of being essentially passive users of electric services.

Looking Forward

After the never-before-seen devastation of New York and New Jersey from Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, elected officials, energy leaders and U.S. citizens recognized the vital need for immediate investment and progress in a more reliable and resilient electric grid. New York is already positioned to be a national and world leader in the smart grid technology and business ecosystem.

New York universities include world leaders in power systems and energy technologies. New York can boast of being home to the headquarters and research facilities of some of the world's leading smart grid technology innovators and is home to Brookhaven National Laboratory. New York state agencies are among the foremost state agencies in fostering energy research and development including smart-grid-related activities. New York utilities include major global energy companies, one of the world's leading urban utilities and state agencies as large as any in the country.

The power grid is delicate even in the most peaceful weather, but 20th century technology must continue to be enhanced and modernized to keep pace with the 21st century and the severe weather it will continue to bring. In response, the New York State Smart Grid Consortium convened all member organizations and is planning to publish a white paper that includes these modernization objectives and how the storm acted as an unfortunate catalyst for more aggressive action.


David J. Manning (dmanning@vhb.com) is executive director of the New York State Smart Grid Consortium, and a senior vice president and energy practice leader for Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc., a Boston, Massachusetts-based engineering firm. He previously served as executive vice president of external affairs and chief environmental officer for KeySpan/National Grid.

Companies mentioned:

Long Island Power Authority | www.lipower.org

New York State Smart Grid Consortium | nyssmartgrid.com