Taking Advantage of the Smart Grid Technology

Carol Bartucci, Director of Information Technology, ComEd
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Carol Bartucci, Director of Information Technology, ComEd

Smart grid technology is a growing industry, and most importantly it is the key to modernizing our electric grid infrastructure. In 2011, the Illinois General Assembly enacted the Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act (EIMA), setting in motion a $2.6 billion investment by ComEd to strengthen and modernize the state’s northern electric grid. The objective of the EIMA program is to improve system performance through accelerated investment in programs that address aging distribution infrastructure, storm hardening and expand smart grid technology. These programs will benefit both the utility and the customer. By increasing reliability through grid upgrades, customers will experience fewer outages. The modernization will include technology deployments that will allow the utility to obtain much more data to manage systems, pinpoint outages and direct crews more easily to problems.

As smart grid technology continues to develop, utility companies will be looking to obtain new functionality from the in- vestments that they have made into the electric grid. More and more devices will be interconnected on the smart grid, and it is imperative to understand the benefits and impacts of these de- vices sharing the network.

There are many obvious benefits of the smart grid, including automated metering infrastructure (AMI), the ability to in- stall devices just about anywhere in the service area and easily communicate with them and get data out of them, troubleshoot and diagnose devices remotely, and perform device firmware upgrades. However, we are now seeing some potential benefits that were not expected when the smart grid investment was initially considered. Inter-device communication will enable edge devices to talk directly to each other, share data, and make decisions; programming and analytics can be performed at the de- vice level and actions taken based on calculations; the radio can also function as a small remote terminal unit (RTU) and obtain input/output data from the end device and transmit back to Scada without the need for a separate RTU or control box, saving significant costs.

 Because of the extensive number of potential uses, ComEd wanted to create a lab environment to allow significant experimentation to test out these new technologies. We collaborated with Silver Spring Networks, the technology company we have partnered with for our Smart Grid network; West Mon- roe Partners, a consulting company with extensive experience in Smart Grid and Utility technology; and Illinois Institute of Technology(IIT), a university with a micro grid that happens to be located within the ComEd service area. And the Center for Smart Grid Application Research and Technology (CSMART) was created! These partners provide the necessary resources to enable CSMART to become a revolutionary smart grid research and technology center. Building the lab at IIT allows us to integrate our technology and systems in a real world micro grid and distribution environment. With IIT’s micro grid, many distributed generation components, and grid devices, ComEd engineers and analysts will be able to interact with many of the same devices that are on our distribution network and perform testing and experimentation. Firmware upgrades, stress testing, cyber security assessments and data analytics are just a few of the functions that can be exercised at the lab. The lab will be open to other parties, such as utility vendors, research institutes, and computer or technology companies, who may want to participate in smart grid research using the CSMART center. We have already been approached by many vendors who would like to participate in smart grid re- search at CSMART. The value in allowing other vendors to use the center is many sided: The vendor can test interoperability with the equipment installed in the lab without the additional expense of building out a complete smart grid test environment, they can allow students to participate in the testing, thereby increasing student interest and education in modern utility technology, and the vendor can test additional functionality as more devices are added to the lab. One vendor example is the recent partnering of CMSART with OSIsoft LLC. Their PI sys- tem, also referred to as a real time data and event infrastructure system, is currently in use monitoring the grid components on IIT’s cam- pus. A student was able to per- form utility specific work to build a one line diagram, which was recently used to diagnose an outage on campus, significantly reducing the restoration time.

 There are plans to use the tool for data acquisition and additional analytics. No topic of smart grid would be complete without addressing the security requirements of the network. ComEd has planned for a multi-layer security approach across their network since the beginning of the smart grid implementation. Having similar smart grid devices on campus will allow us to test and experiment with additional security configurations. We will also be able to perform vulnerability assessments on new devices and technology as they are incorporated into the network. Having IIT participate in CSMART brings a steady stream of resources to assist with the projects that are planned on cam- pus. Professors and students alike have expressed great interest in running use cases which will test theories or technologies in the smart grid environment. The experience that IIT students will gain from working in the CSMART lab will allow them to understand what working with a large utility, technology or consulting company would be like. Our first lab students have already gained many insights into working on the smart grid and their test results will be published to communicate their findings. We are confident the students will be coming up with many innovations through their work in the lab, and will present many useful findings along with the results of all their use cases and projects. ComEd is already looking forward to results from several of the CSMART projects that are in progress, as well as the future use cases we have planned. Currently ComEd is considering smart grid LED streetlight pilots, so they will gain insight from the LED streetlight installation that is currently being implemented on IIT’s campus. Additional use cases currently in progress include streetlight energy efficiency evaluation;security evaluation of Streetlight Vision application; monitoring of solar energy systems on campus using Connect TheGrid; streetlight devices ability to interact with other campus systems; and programming a net- work radio to control a device connected to another radio. CSMART was built with the goal of providing benefits for electricity consumers, utilities, vendors and technology companies through the advancement of understanding around new smart grid equipment, support processes, and data analysis. The initial phase of building the CSMART lab and executing the first set of use cases shows very promising results and all indications point to continuing the advancement of smart grid technology.

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