Smart Distribution

The article highlights need of automation and IT application in power distribution. - Ashok Upadhyay

The growth of a country depends upon the certain basic pillar of infrastructure and one of such basic infrastructure is availability of quality and reliable power in the country. The country needs day and night uninterrupted power supply to all the consumers
along with transparency in the operation of the sector and consumer participation. Since the enactment of the Electricity Act 2003, Indian power distribution utilities have come a long way but still distribution is the weakest link in the entire value chain of the electricity sector. It involves dealing with retail consumers with varied expectations and at the same time different paying capacities. It involves huge network and requires network management of vast area. Theft, pilferages, and network losses are also maximum in this segment.

Distribution is often seen as a social obligation of government towards society rather than a commercial activity. Since the metering, billing, and collection at many places involve human intervention and most of the times human error, intentional or nonintentional can occur. There is a lack of infrastructure for database management system and at the same time absence of any data mining system. Lack of employee ownership and internal resistance to change also observed in distribution sector. Considering the current situation of distribution utilities, there are following key challenges with distribution utilities in the country:

 Poor metering billing and collection efficiency resulting high AT&C losses.
 Weak and inadequate distribution network.
 Obsolete or ageing infrastructure at subtransmission and distribution level which is not compatible to the automation and Intelligent Electronic Devices (IEDs).
 Poor forecasting and inadequate power procurement planning resulting in expensive bilateral transactions and power exchanges.
 Capacity and capability constraints of the existing
workforce including technology embracing barrier.
 Poor financial performance due to lack of accountability and high-power theft.

Thus, there is a need of introduction of Information Technology (IT) and automation in operation of distribution utilities. Information Technology plays a major role in the success of effective decision-making at the utility level. Some of the elements of IT facilitating to the business groups for efficient operations are data and application integration, business intelligence, hardware capabilities to run complex algorithms and display mapping features and workflow coordination and reporting. The information system concept promises to increase operational efficiency, reduce cost and be more environment friendly. Real integration of IT not only helps to fulfill that promise but enhances the opportunities to add more value and effectiveness to the energy value chain. Integration of IT brings together real time systems such as SCADA, EMS and DMS with corporate applications such as ERP, billing, CRM etc. These integrated IT approach basically paves the way for moving towards the ‘Smarter Grid’.

Features of Automation in Distribution Sector

To achieve affordability, reliability, quality and environmentally acceptable power supply in the country, there are certain requirements which a smart utility must have:

 A well planned and maintained network infrastructure
 Automated process flow supported by automated monitoring and control of network topology
 Automated process flow supported by state-of-the-art information technology-based metering, billing and collection, Customer Relation Management and Enterprise Resource Planning System.
 Automated process flow for field crew management for all practical purposes
 Advanced metering infrastructure and meter data management (MDM) system to bring about transparency, customer engagement and efficiency in utility operation
 Advanced business analytics to bring out actionable reports
 Robust communication system
 Updated GIS with automated data maintenance process
 Technology oriented capability of workforce
 Compliance for cyber security etc.

A smart combination of Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT) can allow to optimise across the technologies on both the supply and demand side to achieve the affordable, reliable and clean power as per satisfaction of the consumers. The details of some of the Operations Technology applications are as under –

Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA)

Distribution utilities generally operate three layers of network i.e. Sub transmission, Primary Distribution and Secondary Distribution. Any interruption at sub transmission level accounts for outage to thousands of customers. Thus, it is necessary to monitor and control each and every network element in the sub transmission system remotely.

Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) is the software application program for acquiring the data on real time basis from each connected network equipment, be it normal condition or abnormal condition due to any fault and provides this data to the control center for facilitating decision making for switching operation of network elements remotely for faster action. SCADA makes information readily available within seconds to enable quick actions and faster restoration of supply. It eliminates the risk of equipment damage and enhances safety in working environment. It also improves reliability indices and ensures better handling of the reactive power support equipment.

Substation Automation System (SAS)

Electric utilities have to tap the useful information of the network equipment installed in field and making this information available to persons of organisation for improved analysis and decisionmaking. Substation automation systems provide a mechanism that will enable utilities to establish effective data acquisitions, control and undertake condition based maintenance activities. Substation Automation provides technologically advanced solutions at the substation level provide the best form of gathering data for local and remote support of functions. It has provision for reconfigurations that require the change of settings remotely and provides the implementation of remote maintenance of the relays in terms of change of settings.

SAS would be the best approach to have a technological up-to-date protection system and would also provide cost-effective inputs required by the SCADA. It provides an integrated monitoring, control and protection system having a number of advantages over the conventional equipment. This reduces installation costs, improve reliability of equipment required for feeding data to the SCADA system. Further, to reduce maintenance costs without compromising equipment reliability, it is crucial for utilities to replacing conventional periodic inspection and maintenance practices with condition-based maintenance practices. Condition based practices enable the utility to increase routine inspection intervals and perform major teardown inspections only when the equipment exhibits symptoms of incipient failures.

Distribution Management System (DMS)

Distribution Management System (DMS) is a set of applications designed to monitor and control MV distribution network reliable and efficiently. It acts as a decision support system to the network operator stationed in control center with the monitoring and control of MV distribution system. It accesses real time data and provide all required information on a single console at the control center in an integrated manner. This helps to detect, report and correct outages which includes the estimation of fault location and service restoration system. DMS application is also used for optimising the network conditions including the Network Reconfiguration and the Volt-Var Control functions.

Outage Management System (OMS)

Outage Management System (OMS) provides the capability to efficiently identify and resolve outages and to generate and report valuable information. OMS typically works in conjunction with Geographic Information System and Customer Information System to give proactive response to the consumer regarding supply restoration status by predicting the location of faulty network component which has contributed to outage to the consumer. On operational front, it helps in prioritising the restoration efforts and managing resources based upon the criteria such as locations of emergency facilities, size and duration of outage. It also helps in analysing repetitive nature of faults and helps maintenance crew in prioritising their maintenance schedule.

OMS applications predict the outages encountered by customers. To predict the outages of customer, it is prerequisite to have complete network hierarchy from customer to the LT network followed by distributions transformers, 11 KV substations and 66/33 KV substations. The requirement of complete hierarchy can be obtained through GIS platform by maintaining and sustaining of up to date network, assets and consumer mapping into GIS. Based on either numbers of calls from customers or outage information from SCADA/DMS trigger the system application to predict the numbers of affected consumers. The list of affected consumers is sent to Customer Information System for providing proactive intimation to consumers experiencing outages and assigning of field crew for early restoration of outages.

Outage Management System enables recording of end to end outage data creating invaluable interruption data and improves quality of service to customers. It ensures reduction in outage duration, restoration time and nonoutage complaints. OMS provides reduction in O&M costs, improves performance assurance standards and ensure better regulatory relations with consumers.

Advanced Distribution Management System (ADMS)

Advanced Distribution Management System (ADMS) is the software platform that supports the full suite of distribution management and optimisation. An ADMS includes functions that automate outage restoration and optimise the performance of the distribution grid. ADMS functions being developed for electric utilities include fault location, isolation and restoration; volt/var optimisation; conservation through voltage reduction; peak demand management; and support for micro grids and electric vehicles. In fact, an ADMS transitions utilities from paperwork, manual processes, and siloed software systems to an integrated system with real-time and near-real-time data and automated processes.

Applications of ADMS looks for certain data which can be fed to this system through GIS which contains the asset, network and consumer modelling of utility. Based on this data, all applications can be run successfully provided the data in GIS is maintained and updated judiciously and always in live condition as available in field.

Geographical Information System (GIS)

GIS helps in addressing the challenges of utilities whose assets and network are spread across the geography for providing services to their consumers. This is the optimal platform and foundation technology for utilities which contain the complete information as mentioned as follows:

 Geo coordinates controlled asset record management
 Network topology for operation service management
 Consumer’s location and indexing with network and asset for service delivery
 Field crew movement and tracking for ease of services to the customers.

Generally, GIS is presumed to be used as standalone system for data updation from various user groups and most of time, GIS loses its shine due to lack of timely data updation in GIS. With lack of latest data, the integration of GIS with other business systems gets impacted and the overall objective of GIS gets completely derailed. Landscape of GIS which can help various other processes includes SCADA, Distribution Management System, Outage Management System, Network Planning, Energy Auditing, Field Force Automation, Asset Management, Customer Relationship Management and other associated processes.

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)

ERP like SAP for utility internal use (illustrative, though there are solutions available from various OEMs) includes the maintenance management across network layers of utility. The key benefits which can be achieved by ERP solutions are:

 Improved Work Control.
 Improved Planning and Scheduling.
 Enhanced Preventive and Predictive Maintenance.
 Improved Parts and Materials Availability.
 Improved MRO Materials Management in Integration with GIS and Design Manager Application.
 Improved Reliability Analysis.
 Increased Capability to Measure Performance and Service.
 Increased Level of Maintenance Information.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

CRM is implemented for providing information in concise form to front staff for better consumer interaction and to back office for facilitating day to day decision making. The information or option available in CRM can be broadly categorised into major categories like Search Options, Fact Sheet, Notification and Report. The key benefits of CRM are as follows:

 Call Center Executive will use only one application for answering the consumer query or registering the consumer complaint due to which productivity of executive is improved. The increase in productivity ensures that utility can answer more calls without increasing the number of operators in the commercial call center.
 Unified call center to attend to all types of complaints (commercial or operational i.e. No supply).
 In case of no supply, call center operator is able to identify the consumer and answer the consumer query in very less time due to which the average talk time is reduced.

Smart Grid Technology

A smart grid is an electrical grid which includes a variety of operational and energy measures including smart meters, smart appliances, renewable energy resources, and energy efficient resources. Electronic power conditioning and control of the production and distribution of electricity are important aspects of the smart grid. To ensure a seamless transition from existing approach to Smart Grid scenario, focus of any distribution utility must be structured around four key priorities. These are Empower Customers to better manage and control their electricity use, Improve Reliability, Maintain Privacy and Security and Support Renewable integration and economic development.

In order to address the above mentioned priorities, Smart Grid technologies need to be implemented in conjunction with the existing application or technology. Smart grid generally refers to a class of technology that is being considered to bring paradigm shift in power distribution utility’s performance. The Smart Grid represents an unprecedented opportunity to move the energy industry into a new era of reliability, availability, and efficiency that will contribute to economic and environmental health. The benefits associated with the Smart Grid include:

 More efficient transmission of electricity
 Quicker restoration of electricity after power disturbances
 Reduced operations and management costs for utilities, and ultimately lower power costs for consumers
 Reduced peak demand, which will also help lower electricity rates
 Increased integration of largescale renewable energy systems
 Better integration of customerowner power generation systems, including renewable energy systems
 Improved security

Distributed Energy Resources (DER)

Conventionally, grid substation has been designed to transmit power from receiving station to end user for consumption. However, as the penetration of Distributed Energy Resources (DER) is going to increase, grid substations shall be used as carrier of bi-directional energy flows. The penetration of DER such as distributed generation, Electric storage, Electric Vehicles (EV) and demand response may significantly affect the operation of Distribution Grid substations. On the other hand, this DER development will help in reduction of CO2 emission, reduction in loading on the network and increase in self – consumption.

DER serves as a flexibility service provider within the power distribution network i.e. facilitates a power adjustment sustained for a given duration in order to balance supply and demand at a given moment. DER creates opportunities for customers to self-provide energy, manage load profiles, improve power quality and help meet clean energy goals. It avoided costs, increased efficiencies, and gained revenues. For customers owning DERs, benefits can be tied to incentive payments as well as avoided costs associated with electricity bills. For utilities, regulators, and ratepayers, benefits can be tied to more efficient utilization of the grid and deferred investments.

Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI)

Advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) is an integrated system of smart meters, communications networks, and data management systems that enables two-way communication between utilities and customers. Customer systems include in-home displays, home area networks, energy management systems, and other customer-side-of-the-meter equipment that enables smart grid functions in residential, commercial, and industrial facilities. It is architecture for automated, two-way communication between a smart utility meter with an IP address and a utility company. The goal of an AMI is to provide utility companies with real-time data about power consumption and allow customers to make informed choices about energy usage based on the price at the time of use.

AMI refers to systems that measure, collect, and analyse energy usage, and communicate with metering devices such as electricity meters, either on request or on a schedule. These systems include hardware, software, communications, consumer energy displays and controllers, customer associated systems, meter data management software, and supplier business systems. Advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) differs from traditional automatic meter reading (AMR) in that it enables two-way communications with the smart meter.


It is very crucial to overcome the present challenges and move towards smarter utilities showcasing the best performance in terms of reliability and accountability. New stakeholders are entering the power distribution industry, shifting a historically monopolistic sector into a highly competitive business. Realising many of the benefits of smart meters in distribution network such as more flexible pricing, improved customer understanding, participation and the deployment of new services requires a significant investment in IT. It has a leading role in the development of customer management systems and it is also playing a growing role in delivering operational efficiency in areas such as outage management, asset management, and workforce management systems, where there are clear benefits from a broader integration of enterprise and operational data. IT also has capabilities related to system security and large-scale data management and analysis.

Leave a Reply