The electric power transmission and distribution grid in the United States is the world’s largest integrated machine. Given the grid’s extraordinary complexity, the National Academy of Engineering named the electric power grid in the United States the greatest engineering achievement of the 20th century. This complexity is exacerbating the already daunting challenges of managing changes in the traditional electric system. And the system is changing dramatically.
The rise of rooftop solar, the rapid expansion of energy efficiency and the emergence of electric vehicles are driving disruptive change in the electric system.
Unlike past changes in the electric system, many of the changes affecting the grid today are taking place at the edge of the grid, where the system interacts with end users. Distributed energy resources, which include distributed generation, demand response and other demand-side management strategies, are located beyond the utility meter.
Although grid operators have limited control over distributed energy resources, the grid is still affected by how these resources are operated. As a result, grid operators need greater awareness of what is happening at the edge of the grid. Situational awareness is thus essential for effective change management.
To realize the full promise of situational awareness, utilities must do more than merely pull back more data from more sensors and more devices. The value of information depends not only on what data is collected but also on how that data is managed. Making information actionable requires integrating previously distinct information systems into a seamless system-of-systems. Deep situational awareness requires that available information be combined in new ways, that a variety of perspectives are brought to bear and that assets can be employed differently to meet the needs of a variety of situations.
Business process management is also a basic building block for managing grid transformation. By integrating systems into a unified intelligence engine, business process management empowers decision makers. It expands access to information by eliminating constraints on the flow of information. For example, integrating customer information systems with meter data management systems can accommodate information from social media channels to provide consumers and businesses more opportunities to engage intelligently with utilities.
When data is not processed effectively, it is less useful. For example, if the flow of data is fragmented across multiple systems or applications, decisions must be made based on ad hoc interpretations of multiple inputs.
Robust and open standards and protocols are essential elements of a unified intelligence engine. They ensure that grid components and endpoints can communicate with each other to support core applications and capabilities. A unified intelligence engine coupled with standards-based business process management systems provides deep operational awareness by fusing grid edge intelligence and centralized data management. It also facilitates smart partner integration by ensuring interoperability through robust standards and protocols.
A smart system that leverages edge intelligence, the network, central systems and integrated partner applications, enables grid operators—and the grid itself—to respond to a wide range of specific operational states.
A reliable supply of electricity is essential for the physical and economic welfare of contemporary society. Utilities that proactively manage grid transformation can meet the concurrent challenges of ensuring grid reliability, augmenting system efficiency and enhancing customer service in an era of unprecedented change.
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