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Perspective

Part II, Roadmap to an Interconnected Grid Infrastructure

The second half of Black & Veatch two-part series addressing grid edge intelligence.

Part II, Roadmap to an Interconnected Grid Infrastructure

Today’s energy industry is undergoing a fundamental transformation. The ongoing shift towards decentralization is changing how we design, operate and maintain the electric grid, requiring new, technology-driven approaches that include integrating intelligence to the grid edge.

This article is the second half of Black & Veatch’s two-part series addressing grid edge intelligence. Part I, The Mechanics of Grid Edge Intelligence, defined the grid edge and identified the three primary architectures available today involving the grid edge: centralized, decentralized and hybrid. The article also addressed the different applications – both emerging and proven – that can be found at the grid edge.

Part II takes a deeper dive into this topic, by outlining the roadmap process that is critical in leading utilities to an interconnected grid infrastructure.

It’s no secret that grid edge intelligence is complex, both from a technical sense but also from the stakeholder perspective, in that it impacts stakeholders from across the entire utility organization. Although the process to enable grid edge intelligence may appear daunting, it is certainly not impossible.

Thankfully utilities have a critical tool in their toolbox – the ability to develop a roadmap and long-term strategy that will spur stakeholder engagement and allow utilities to prioritize data collection, analysis and interpretation. When done correctly, the roadmap process keeps utilities on track and moving along their journey to an effective interconnected grid infrastructure.

Arguably the grid edge is where a lot of the upcoming opportunities, and threats, will be happening. By placing the grid edge at the forefront of their roadmap, utilities can gain valuable insight into market needs and competitive threats, enabling them to stay innovative, agile and able to evolve with the ever-changing energy landscape to safely accelerate growth towards a more sustainable, resilient and reliable future grid.

 

Six Steps to a Smarter Grid

When it comes to enabling grid edge intelligence, utilities must have a deep understanding of where intelligence should be added. This is where a proven, well-defined roadmap can help set the course. Although several frameworks are available, the important thing is to use a proven, well-defined process that supports value-based engineering. And of course, to stick to the plan – once the roadmap is put into play, the utility must follow it through to project execution.

To develop utility roadmaps, Black & Veatch relies on a six-step process that was developed over the last twenty years called PAADIO, which stands for Planning, Assessment, Architecture, Design, Implementation and Optimization.

The first step in any roadmap should be planning, where the utility identifies and invites all applicable stakeholders to the table. This is not just the groups that will use the network or its applications, but stakeholders from cybersecurity, construction and human resources. Stakeholder participation is critical on any large project within the utility space that deals the grid and the backbone network. In this new environment the stakeholder group is much larger than it used to be.

Together, these stakeholders will establish the goals and key criteria for success, a common understanding and definition of the project, and they should identify any gaps early in the process. They should determine the system requirements in a system requirements document (SRD) and identify baselines for the network, system and grid. These projects are being undertaken to serve a business need and those business goals must be kept in mind throughout the process.

Those goals or functional requirements will be key in determining the type of performance, throughput and redundancy necessary. The SRD should also include key performance indicators (KPIs) to help measure and track performance. Important questions are answered: What type of power systems will be used? What are the requirements in terms of hardening? The SRD addresses all technical requirements as a living document that provides a solid technical foundation for building out the utility’s network.

The assessment stage comes next – this is when the utility should identify and document the current state and future state network and infrastructure through use cases. Assessment is often very complex. Stakeholders should remember that it's really the applications that should drive the future state network. When planning out a network, the utility should identify system requirements but also the use cases, users and impacts.

This includes answering the following questions: What are the current state applications? How is your utility doing compared to other utilities of similar size and scope? How is the data and security network designed? How do you operate the network? How are you staffed? Do you have enough staff with the necessary skills? Is your utility dependent on other providers, e.g., equipment vendors? How much infrastructure is owned versus leased? What are the use cases? Stakeholders should remain aware that building a new network will sometimes mean forging a new route than what was previously followed in the utility’s current state.

Once the vision for the future state is established, it is now possible to identify the gaps between the current state and future state. All gaps will not be equal, so a method must be used to prioritize the gaps. With priorities established, mitigations can be addressed and planned out, establishing the roadmap.

With assessment complete, the utility can begin to look at the high-level conceptual design of the new system architecture. At this point, the utility doesn’t know which solutions it will deploy, but it should consider which solutions are commercially available and affordable. An RFI and RFP process may help provide the needed clarity.

Stakeholders should take equipment life cycles into account but not focus on them: The key is to design an architecture that will support the business for fifteen to twenty years, one that will adapt to new technologies as they become available. But you don't want to have to redo this architecture in seven years; instead, develop an architecture that can stand as a framework even as new technologies emerge.

Stakeholders should also keep in mind that they will need both a physical and logical architecture – not only how the circuits traverse the physical components, but also how they interconnect logically as well. What do those data paths look like? These are important considerations when developing the architectural framework for the design.

The design phase means putting pen to paper to get into the detailed plan. The utility has been through the RFI and validated the lab testing from the architecture phase, so can use this information and these testing results to create detailed functional requirements. This phase involves vendor selection and equipment demonstrations to ensure that the vendors meet all performance requirements. In addition, the utility will finalize the numbers – e.g., the capital costs and operating costs, to ensure that the plan is ready for final approval.

By the time we’ve hit the implementation phase, the utility has a well-organized, detailed plan for implementation and migration. At this point, the utility has obtained stakeholder buy-in, approved and tested its system requirements, and designed new processes as needed. Staffing resources have been coordinated and trained, and the plan is in place. Time to execute!

Assuming the first five stages have been performed correctly, the sixth and final stage, optimization, should be about refining and improving the process by making fine-tuned adjustments to the selected applications, devices, processes and converged FAN. The proof of concept has been done, and the network has been implemented.

Conclusion

After reviewing the six steps to developing a roadmap, it becomes clear why it is so important to involve all key stakeholders early in the process. Plus, this approach allows all stakeholders to see grid edge intelligence in action, helping to smooth out the deployment process.

If done correctly, the roadmap acts as a catalyst for a variety of projects across the utility and plays a key role in keeping the process moving. Ideally, the utility can begin working on the conceptual design while starting the planning process and can line up for implementation while still in the architecture phase.

A roadmap is a critical part of building the interconnected grid infrastructure that will enable grid edge intelligence. Using a well-defined process will help simplify the complexity that is inherent when enabling grid engine intelligence – and that, in turn, will help produce a well-defined and integrated grid architecture.

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Gary Johnson is a regional sales director with Black & Veatch’s telecommunications business. For over a decade, Johnson has helped utilities realize their goals for a smarter, more intuitive grid through telecommunication and automation solutions.

Craig Preuss is a system architect with Black & Veatch’s telecommunications business, where he specializes in utility integration and automation. A professional engineer in Illinois and Washington, Preuss serves as Chair of the IEEE Power System Communications and Cybersecurity (PSCC) Committee.

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