Driven by a desire for increased monitoring, control and automation, improved reliability and efficiency, and a need to integrate DER, utilities are working to bring a massive new array of assets online in the distribution space. The speed, scale and complexity at which these advanced systems deploy will require visualization and immersive interaction wholly unachievable with today's methodologies, paving the way for a revolution in asset management.
Historically, approaches to asset management skewed from a maintenance approach. but the energy economy is expanding, evolving to accommodate new technologies such as advanced battery storage and microgrids, growing investment in DER, an influx of high-powered electric vehicle (EV) charging networks, heightened cyber protections, the proliferation of smart systems, customer engagement platforms and advanced network communications. And as we near a 5G horizon, everything that can be connected will be.
As a result, conventional "replace and repair" asset management approaches will have no place in this future world, and are being quickly eclipsed by a more holistic, whole-systems perspective.
Building towards a Whole-Systems Perspective
A whole-systems perspective flips the old notion that reliability is asset-centric and grounds it in a systems-centric approach. Traditional enterprise asset management is being shelved as a structural standard, a commodity that is inherently limited in the value it can unlock. therefore, utilities are leveling up to "asset performance management," bolting on a technological accelerator to the enterprise, which offers a smarter, more cohesive approach to managing the entire asset portfolio in a way that is analytically driven around system needs and customer benefit.
Conventional systems maintain a simple notion of criticality; advanced distribution systems recognize situation-based context, and assets and locations can and will change over the short- and long term, altering performance in different outcomes. This provides a much more predictive and prescriptive capability.
For example, context will be critical as storage and DER become more integrated. Advanced distribution systems will have to consider capacity and the ability to provide backup energy supply; different services become part of the mix and location will be a driver. To satisfy this need, it will be necessary to tie asset management system models to evolving paraments such as location, underlying circuit conditions and changing customer needs.
Data from Black & Veatch's 2019 Strategic Directions: Smart Utilities Report show that utilities are on the cusp of this idea, with most survey respondents saying that they plan to sue an asset management system to manage the upgrade or deployment of assets. This shows that these systems are being implemented across a utility's entire array of assets, versus just the major assets, laying the foundation for a more systems-centric, agile future.
Even more profound is the compounding fact that data and the systems that manage it are pervasively growing. this begs the question of whether data can be a utility's most valuable resource, or death by a thousand cuts.
Relationships Will Drive Value
Data underpins this effort and is the great unifier between all siloed, disparate components. Understanding the relationships and connections between the data will drive value in these systems. For example, how can you obtain full understanding unless you can model your assets in the context they are operating in? It is also necessary to understand the ecosystem in which they operate. And once you have that baseline understanding, what else can you harvest from that? How can you combine elements together in multiple ways, reuse elements in different solutions and be more efficient in the hunt for new opportunities?
Taking this systems perspective will be even more beneficial as more and more nontraditional lines and disciplines — and areas of expertise — are crossed, making it easier to understand how things are managed and what decisions are made. Effective decision-making will become increasingly reliant on asset intelligence at the heart of which is completely accurate, up-to-date asset records. The ability to apply context from locational perspective is something we can all comprehend and understand. As systems become more complex and integrated, how can we leverage those types of views and perspectives and communicate more effectively?
Culture as a Barrier
There is a huge amount of inertia around these systems and revamping the conventional view of asset management won't be easy. A significant culture shift will be required to convert our current physical world to a logical world and will call to mind many socio-technical aspects, such as how do you get people aligned and comfortable with this future? And comfortable understanding the power of these analytic tools that they cannot really see or feel?
Some of this will happen organically; workforce retirement will serve as a catalyst on some level. As the demographic shifts, younger generations will demand the use of technology and software-defined components, and smarter systems will replace the gray-haired systems that may have hindered progress.
Data Makes It All Happen
Implementing this next-gen approach hinges on the quality and visualization of the data. Utilities need to focus on cleaning up and improving the quality of their data — making sure the data is structured, organized and presented in such a way that is can be consumed by an analytic and used to perform these performance management-type endeavors.
The faster utilities create this "asset golden record" in such a way that they can perform the analytics on it, the more equipped they will be to embrace these advanced systems. if not performed, the poor quality of the data will be immediately felt, and the effects will reverberate throughout these increasingly connected and integrated systems.
Predictive Analytics Bring It Together
Whole-systems modernization will involve programs and projects that are executed on a very large scale, producing tremendous amounts of project, asset and systems information. To manage and visualize this complex data, Black & Veatch relies on a tool called "project management, which helps utilities deploy large-scale grid modernization projects. Powered by ASSET360®, the cloud-based analytics platform offered by Atonix Digital as Black & Veatch'ssoftware subsidiary, program management serves as a central hub that provides real-time views into a project's status and performance.
By providing a single point of reference for activity management, scheduling management, productivity, ext., program management offers up-to-date awareness as it integrates with other capabilities of ASSET360® to paint a picture of risk, risk assessment, systems thinking, system models, performance analysis, monitoring and diagnostics, and the detection of systems or assets failure. Tools such as these will be a critical part of any modernization effort.
Building the Future State
To some degree, fully embracing whole-systems modernization and asset performance management solutions will be a process of evolution. The elements are there (models and analytics), but gaps remain until the future state becomes reality. For example, you cannot build a full-blown tool set that analyzes DER at heavy level of penetration until that level of integration becomes reality; only then will we have the real-world data and experience to build that capability.
We are entering new territory, and for forward-thinking organizations the immediate returns on investment can be quite large. To this point, workflows have been predictable, and distribution was a relatively straightforward one-way flow of power to the consumer. But the future is highly dynamic and things are changing very quickly, forcing the utility to keep up.