GE Digital recently unveiled the latest enhancements to its Advanced Distribution Management Solution (ADMS) suite and Future Grid Solutions spoke to Jim Walsh, general manager grid software solutions, GE Digital, about the importance of ADMS to power utilities and the need to manage an ever more complex power grid.

What are the challenges that utilities are facing that makes Advanced Distribution Management Solutions (ADMS) such a valuable tool?
The biggest challenge that utilities are facing at a macro level is the amount of change. This change is predominantly, although not exclusively, driven by decarbonisation and the penetration of renewables into the grid. The utility has multiple responsibilities, but one of the most important is managing the balance between supply and demand.
When you start to put renewables, or what we refer to as intermittent generation sources, into the mix, that balancing act becomes exponentially more complicated. In the face of this complexity, consumer’s expectations have not changed, they still need the utility to keep the lights on and if an interruption occurs, to get power back online quickly. Utilities are having to manage this under more complex, dynamic situations than they ever have before.
We see a lot of renewable penetration in and around the distribution grid, and that is one of the reasons that distribution management systems (DMS) or ADMS is such an area of focus, and frankly, an area of investment for utilities. There are arguably three components that make up a full functioning ADMS. First, you have the DMS, then the outage management system (OMS) and increasingly, you are starting to see distributed energy resource management (DERM) capabilities.
Trying to operate in this complex environment is difficult enough, trying to do it with three siloed applications makes it that much harder. Why ADMS is gaining so much traction is the need for those capabilities to work together in a very seamless, orchestrated way. If you put all that on the table, it is no wonder that a fully functioning integrated set of capabilities is the way that utilities are looking to deal with the complexity.

More than almost any other industry there are so many data silos within the power grid sector, and it must be a challenge to break them down.
It is, and if you think about how the software systems grew up in the power industry, many were created to solve a particular problem, at a specific time. The grid is often defined as ‘the most complex machine in the world’. When you are developing applications one at a time, you can very quickly become siloed. For example, each will have its data model and if there is not a lot of effort to keep those data models calibrated, it is difficult, if not impossible to run the grid in a seamless fashion. Part of the driving force behind solutions like ADMS is to have one version of the truth that applications can then operate off. It is the only way we know how a utility can manage something as complex, sophisticated, and rapidly changing as the grid without some incredibly involved database integration.

Has the digitalisation of the grid and the increased volume of data changed the way a grid is managed?
Most operators of any size have digitalised, and that certainly has helped them deal with the challenges they face. What it also creates is a mountain of data and so data management and data access strategies are something that utilities have to be thinking about. If you have heaps of data in silos, the likelihood of finding efficiencies drops. ADMS is a step in the right direction.
Another strategy utilities adopted recently is running analytics on top of the operating systems to take better advantage of the data generated. They realise they have the infrastructure in place to generate all this data, but the reality is they are probably using five to 10 per cent of it at the most. Logically, there is wisdom contained in that mountain of data that they do not have to pay anything extra to access.
What we have been talking to customers about is how to build snap-in capabilities that allow them to interrogate that data and visualise it to provide insights seamlessly without having to go through foundational IT operations.

Another tool that is gaining in popularity is the network digital twin. How are GE Digital customers utilising this technology and what benefits can it deliver?
I think everything we do is at least partially an attempt to create what I think about as a digital twin. The way I define it is an accurate, digital representation of the physical world. Digital twins are not only important for operating the grid on a day to day basis, you need that visibility for a lot of other reasons. It is helpful when you contemplate changes to the resources connecting to the grid. Testing power flows and whether or not they have resiliency. It provides utilities the opportunity, as long as they have a very integrated approach, to not just continue to run the grid with efficiency, safety and reliability, but it allows them to stress test it and conduct different experiments without being online. It allows them to be proactive with scenario planning, without having to speculate. They can validate assumptions by running simulations and network digital twins are huge enablers for that. As the world becomes more and more complicated it is a powerful capability that utilities need certainly now more than ever before.
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With all this data in siloed systems is ADMS the glue that binds it all together?
It is probably not a perfect comparison, but when you think about a Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) system plus a Manufacturing Execution System (MES) system; you plan and carry out product design in the PLM and then the execution takes place in the MES. A DMS and an OMS that have no interoperability are better than not being digitised. But with the interdependencies of managing and orchestrating something as complex as the grid, it is easy to come up with a million reasons why having one source of truth and having the applications communicating with each other and leveraging one another’s data, makes for much more coherent, cohesive solution.

The US Dept of Energy quotes the 4Rs – resilience, renewables, replacement, and regulation – as the rationale for adopting ADMS. Does that align with your thinking?
It does. This notion of resilience is, whether it is interruptions caused by Mother Nature or new devices connecting, the grid has to work—thus resilience is essential. When you start to get OMS integrated with a DMS and the ability not just to identify where that fault is and dispatch a crew, but be able to in real-time, reroute electricity so that that fault is not an interruption, that plays through in terms of resilience.
We have talked about renewables but have not spoken a lot about replacement. What I would say there, in particular on the OMS side, is numerous homegrown solutions were built many years ago as utilities recognised how critical it was for them to be able to respond in the case of an outage. Now, whether it is the severity of weather events, or the complexity of the customer base they serve, or that expectations have increased, many utilities are much more apt than ever before to replace their OMS. They do it with an ADMS for the reasons we have discussed.
Then the final piece is regulation. The regulations vary from geography to geography. In the United States it varies from state to state and in Europe, from country to country. As populace outcry for decarbonisation becomes higher, an industry that has not endured extensive regulatory changes in the past 50 or 100 years is, all of a sudden, having to cope with that.

How does ADMS enhance the ability to identify, withstand or recover from a natural disaster quickly and can you speak about your storm assist enhancement that you released in April?
Storm Assist is a newer development for us that enhances our OMS capabilities. Asset management is a big focus of ours because the ability to render a digital representation of the physical world is important in executing all of this work. With that underpinning it, the notion that an OMS is critical to utilities is the most ubiquitous connection that they have to a customer. Many customers do not consider their electricity except when the power goes out or a bill arrives. An OMS is aligned to minimise and resolve one of those incidents, when the power goes out, restoring it as quickly and efficiently as possible.
OMS combined with a GIS system enhances a utility’s ability to be able to respond and react with precision. Storm Assist is another level of capability for the OMS that enhances mobility. You do not have to call all the shots from the control room, you can dispatch crews in a decentralised way. It also facilitates planning on the front end of outages based on some of your previous experiences: it delivers the ability to look back and run models. With an outage it is about having the right skills at the right place at the right time.

The growing penetration of renewables is challenging the power grid around the world. How can ADMS and the new version of DER Orchestration software that you released in May help grids accommodate larger quantities of distributed energy resources?
DER Orchestration changes the game when you start to talk about inertia on the grid. The velocity, and sustainability of an electron to move through the grid behaves vastly differently when it is generated from a renewable source as opposed to rotating equipment. There are operational nuances that come into play that have to be dealt with, such as visibility and the ability to forecast how many electrons will be coming down to the grid from intermittent sources. It is a brave new world and we have conducted extensive work with customers on DER Orchestration over the past decade.
If you think about DER as just another more complex, in some cases less predictable, generation source, then you go back to my very early premise about a utility’s job is to keep the power flow going and the grid balanced. Going forwards, incorporating DER visibility into an ADMS is going to be table stakes and so, just like OMS and DMS belong together, we very much see DER Orchestration as another leg of that stool, it is another generation source that needs to be brought into the macro equation.

How much of a problem is visibility in low-voltage networks? What role does ADMS play here?
We have constructed a low voltage (LV) module. There are certain parts of the world where low voltages are more prevalent than others, and Europe is one of those areas where there is a large, growing, and complex LV network. It is a like a primary distribution network on steroids, it has lots of tentacles, lots of devices, sometimes up to ten times what a typical distribution network would have. What we wanted to ensure was that within our ADMS we could accommodate that because we are a global business. Just by virtue of adding that module it instantly extends visibility and situational awareness. It is an extension of the grid and it goes back to visibility, orchestration, the need to balance, LV is just another chapter in that book, but it is a complex one.

How important are grid analytics that deliver predictive and prescriptive insights to the digital power grid?
Over time it is going to become even more important. The growing complexity of the grid makes it increasingly difficult to make all of the decisions in a control room. The more we can work with our utility customers to safely look to automate parts of the grid, that is where I think predictive analytics has a significant role to play. It is going to help utilities improve their planning, and it is also going to help us on a path together to get to areas of automation where we could potentially take the burden off a control room operator or a field crew and autonomously make changes safely and efficiently.
Additionally, utilities have mountains of data, they have new challenges to deal with that they have never had to contend with before. It is highly likely that there is a lot of wisdom in that mountain of data that just is not getting accessed. In a focused way, what we are trying to do is help our utility customers extract more wisdom out of that mountain of data to help them more effectively and efficiently continue to do what they do.