Consumers Redefine Distribution Automation

Consumers Redefine Distribution Automation

This piece was originally published in the April 2017 issue of electroindustry.

Pat Avery, General Manager, Distribution Automation, G&W Electric Company

Pat Avery of G&W Electric Company

Distribution Automation (DA) is a family of technologies including sensors, processors, communication networks, and switches that can perform a number of distribution system functions depending on how they are implemented.

Over the last 20 years, utilities have been applying DA to improve reliability, service quality, and operational efficiency. More recently, DA is being applied to perform automatic switching, reactive power compensation coordination, and other feeder operations and control.

Consumers soon may have significant control over their destinies for energy requirements. DA and the Internet of Things will play a significant role in facilitating consumers’ operation of their assets. Utilities will increase their competitive products and service capabilities to keep existing consumers and attract new ones. DA will facilitate utilities’ ability to achieve this goal by significantly improving system reliability and resiliency, resulting in increased consumer satisfaction, retention, and attraction.

Consumers Get Smarter

Consumers now can control home systems from their mobile phones—everything from appliances and HVAC to home security and electronic surveillance of intruders, kids, and pets. Consumers also can power their homes with their own distributed generation assets, e.g., solar or gas generators. Third-party service companies and utilities can automatically monitor, maintain, and service consumers’ distributed generation assets when problems occur.

According to Navigant Research, the global market for smart city solutions and services is expected to grow from $40.1 billion in 2017 to $97.9 billion in 2026. It starts with smart buildings that can be controlled like smart homes and are environmentally friendly.

Consumers are installing microgrids for critical loads such as hospitals, R&D centers, and manufacturing plants. Many institutions believe microgrids have the potential to be aggregated to power entire cities, so they are developing designs to accomplish this task.

Traditionally, a consumer had no choice but to pay a monthly energy bill to the local utility. Now, if consumers generate power through solar panels, for example, they have the opportunity to sell power back to the utility and independent system operators (ISOs) like PJM.

PJM pays attractive rates to suppliers of fast frequency power (ability to send power quickly after receiving a signal from PJM) from energy storage. Several companies have developed sophisticated software to enable consumers to profitably sell energy storage to ISOs.

Consumers and energy companies are using blockchain technology as a decentralized (peer-to-peer), highly encrypted method to record and get paid for their energy trading transactions.

L03, a blockchain energy solutions company, engages in projects and tool development to proliferate the use of distributed energy. L03 has three primary projects:

  • Project Exergy: An effort to turn computers into heat in order to recapture wasted resources. LO3 offers cryptographically secured grid services in order to monetize underused computational capacity and store thermal energy.
  • Brooklyn microgrid: A distributed energy infrastructure that can be used during emergency needs of the local community. An additional intent is to boost the local economy through the creation of new community energy job opportunities.
  • Transactive grid: A joint venture with Consensus Systems to deliver real-time metering of local energy generation and other relevant data over the Ethereum blockchain. This platform is open source, transparent, and peer-to-peer. The pilot will be in Brooklyn.

Savvy consumers are redefining the power industry by using DA and other tools to achieve reliable, resilient, and profitable energy.


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