Smart grid technology has begun to work its way into utilities' transmission and distribution (T&D) network. At this point in time, electric utilities are trying to figure out how this new technology will fit within their existing infrastructure. Companies are also questioning what T&D will look like in the coming smart grid world.

To map out the future of smart grid technology, Utilimetrics turned to two of the industry's experts — Kerry Evans, market leader, T&D, for General Electric, and Kevin O'Hara, vice president and general manager, T&D service solutions, Siemens — to get their predictions for the future of the smart grid world.

  1. The smart grid will improve connectivity

    Evans says the business case for implementing advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) simply to perform a metering function is tough to justify. What his company is seeing more often, however, involves how utilities use the communications infrastructure they are deploying to connect more things than just meters. These include equipment such as switches, capacitor banks, voltage regulators and other devices in a substation or on a distribution network that are designed to help the utilities improve their efficiency and operational performance.

    This might involve engaging in activities such as volt/VAR control. In this situation, utilities would use the voltage information from meters at the end of a feeder and combine it with the DAP changer setting on a transformer in the substation and the capacitor banks on a distribution feeder. Utilities can then optimize their power factor on that feeder to better maintain a voltage setting. At the end of the day, this improves their operational performance, reduces their line losses and makes their operations more efficient overall, Evans said.

  2. Communication will be in real time

    O'Hara explained the T&D network as a living, breathing organism between a utility's generation asset and its consumers. Regardless of how close that generation asset is to the consumer, the utility wants real-time, live communication between the consumer, the network and the generation station, so the utility can balance load demand in both directions, he said.

    Historically, utilities have done everything they can on the supply side to meet the demand. In the future, O'Hara believes the utility will be able to control demand and supply at the same time, on an economic basis. As he sees it, the smart grid is nothing more than technology being applied to the existing generation, T&D and consumer infrastructure in order to connect the three of them in such a way that they can interact in real time.

  3. The devices will be more advanced

    In the future, Evans believes T&D will physically and visually look very much the same as it does today, with the exception of the devices that are out there, such as the switches, capacitor bank controllers and voltage regulators. Today, most of these devices are manual, but in the future, they will be automated and connected, via the communications network, in such a way that they can be tied into machine-to-machine systems and then remotely upgraded and configured. By making the devices smarter, utilities will have more insight and visibility into their T&D networks, and they will know how they are performing.

  4. Networks will be able to fix themselves

    If most people look at some of the fundamental definitions of a smart grid, they may begin to think in terms of “self-healing” and “self-correcting.” Utilities have to understand what is happening at several points along the network. In other words, they must have a lot of monitoring devices in place, which communicate in both directions, so adjustments can be made. These can include automatic switching as well as loads that can be strategically reduced, based on agreed-upon parameters, in order to adjust to disturbances or faults on a temporary basis.

  5. Utilities will have increased control over the network

    O'Hara agrees with Evans in that he doesn't believe the T&D network infrastructure will look much different physically. However, O'Hara says there will be new technology and information coming from the existing infrastructure in a way we have never seen before. He predicts that this will involve a lot of interaction and provide new methods of control. In short, the network will look the same physically, but the amount of information flowing and the controllability of the network on a real-time basis will look very different.

As utilities are trying to navigate their way in the uncertainty of the smart grid world, Utilimetrics is available to help its members with educational sessions, webcasts and sharing of best practices. By working together, Utilimetrics and utilities are paving the way for a brighter future using smart grid technology.


Joel Hoiland (jhoiland@utilimetrics.org) is CEO of Utilimetrics, a trade association of utilities, consultants, vendors and other professionals engaged in or considering utility automation. Utilimetrics brings industry professionals together to share lessons learned, best practices and future needs. The association's focus is on the deployment of intelligent technology and enhanced utility operations to best serve customers.