Michael DiBlasi, global digital product manager – Mobility, Avnaesh Jayantilal, ADMS product director and Jennifer Reeves, principal digital product director at GE Digital give us their vision for the control room of the future

As our energy needs and technologies evolve, smarter grid management is becoming a priority for electric utilities. With increasing penetration of distributed energy resources (DERs), the accelerating pace of grid modernisation, and the extreme data influx from IoT devices, the complexity of managing the digital model of the grid is a growing challenge for all utilities.

However, it is also a huge opportunity to make our electricity systems more resilient, reliable and robust. Grid operators around the world are working to modernise, integrate and secure their grid management systems to meet those needs. Modernising, or laying the groundwork for smarter grids, requires both the right operational and analytical software, as well as the right leadership and team culture.

Making the complex more automated with network digital twins
Grid management today is complicated. Electrical grids are the world’s largest machines, and they rely heavily on a myriad of software technology tools and siloed systems, including metering, distributed energy resources management, advanced distributed management solutions (ADMS) and geographic information systems (GIS), to name a few. Utility network designers and mapping departments use the GIS to plan and update the normal state of the network in one silo. Control room operators monitor the real-time state of the network in another silo. And the Operational Technology (OT) support team needs to continuously maintain the disparate representations of the electric grid across all silos.

An integrated network-based GIS and ADMS solution that provides a shared, consistent view of the network model, builds a strong foundation for evolving with the rapidly changing landscape of the electric industry.

Digital models of entire electrical grids – often referred to as a network digital twin– have never been more accurate or more powerful, and this is how the path to network level optimisation is manifesting itself for many of GE Digital’s utility customers today.

With a network-based GIS managing the evolution of the network model, the digital utility can begin to break down the silos and build an ecosystem where data from disparate systems can be orchestrated into a utility data fabric to create a shared, consistent view of the network model. In other words, a network digital twin can help break down silos between teams and help make grids simpler to operate effectively.

Utilities also increasingly have the flexibility to leverage the knowledge about a digital utility’s assets in new and expansive ways. This common utility data can be used by advanced analytics to simulate weather impacts and improve storm preparedness and outage response or understand how the network will behave under different load and future DER growth scenarios.

Being able to ask the system ‘what if?’ questions supports crisis preparation (“what if this part of the grid was impacted by flooding?”) as well as helping to optimise investment costs as grids expand.

Decentralise to optimise
The need to empower decentralised and secure operations has never been more evident. Utilities need to ensure the safety of their employees from a health perspective, maintaining their well-being while enabling them to keep their community safe by continuing to deliver effective outage response.

Given social distancing measures, as many control rooms staff as possible need to be enabled to work remotely. Teams in the field also need access to accurate real time data about the grid. And, with many electric utilities amid digital transformation, operators with ADMS software have the advantage of a comprehensive, real-time view of the grid that features a multitude of data points. Sitting at their consoles, operators and dispatchers see streaming information from across the grid allowing them to expedite outage response and restoration and efficiently communicate with both field crews and customers.

Another solution to address the future of the grid involves enabling mobile technologies that can provide employees the ability to work remotely while giving them visibility to the mission-critical systems that keep the lights on. This involves secure access to the status of the power system, remote accessibility from a multitude of devices, and both geographic and tabular displays that provide alarm lists and logs.

Ultimately, to become the utility of the future, utility CIOs need to look toward digital technologies available today that help them safely manage, analyse, and improve all aspects of transmission and distribution while protecting their employees and their customers. And, to achieve this, they are going to need reliable and proven solutions to support innovative leadership and culture so that those teams can make the most of today’s most powerful software.