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Ensuring accurate analysis for faster, more efficient service restoration.

On Monday global energy management and automation firm Schneider Electric released a report identifying contributing factors towards the recent power outages in South Africa, in addition to the known insufficient power station capacity, which has caused an unbalance in the national grid.

Grid risks include: severe weather conditions, short circuits, faults at power stations, damage to or theft of electric transmission lines, and more, causing both short and long-term loss of electric power to an area.

Efficient restoration of power

The white paper composed by Schneider Electric, ‘How to ensure accurate analysis for faster, more efficient service restoration’, claims that traditional grid outage management systems suffer from two fundamental flaws:

  • lack of accurate, current representation of the grid network model
  • They typically don’t integrate with the systems that monitor and control the actual grid.

According to John Dirkman, senior product manager for Smart Grid Global at Schneider Electric and author of the white paper, power utilities use outage management systems (OMS) to manage the grid and restore power during a power interruption.

“An OMS identifies and predicts potential grid outages and manages restoration activities with the goal of reducing the economic impact of power outages,” Dirkman said.

Outage management systems (OMS)

Schneider electric said in a company statement that although an OMS may function as expected, they don’t have sufficient real-time representation of the smart grid network model and they have limited integration with the systems responsible for controlling and monitoring the grid.

An evolving network model

Dirkman says that the key objective of an OMS is to know where the end user fits into the utility’s network to be able to effectively analyse the site and extent of a power break. But this does not come without its problems as maintaining a current network model of the operational grid is not an easy task.

“Distribution systems undergo daily changes due to operational configuration, network additions, and routine maintenance switching. Changes can originate from different sources, such as control centre operations, maintenance and construction crews, and service personnel. An obsolete network model can cause an OMS to misdiagnose an outage – which results in sending repair crews to the wrong location and extending the duration of an outage.  Furthermore, operators may come to distrust or even discount the information an OMS provides”, Dirkman explained in a statement.

An advanced distribution management system (ADMS)

Many utilities rely on an advanced distribution management system (ADMS) to process the many network data points Dirkman said.

“An ADMS places the tools for outage analysis and crew dispatch alongside those for control, load flow, and grid optimisation, which promotes a more responsive and less error-prone workflow”, the company said.

Dirkman advises the following steps to take should a utility decide to transition to an ADMS approach:

  • Within 1-4 weeks: begin to plan a migration roadmap. Assess what steps need to be taken in order to evaluate current outage management weaknesses. Conduct an assessment of requirements.
  • Within 6 months: Determine how much work needs to be done to implement a cutover to ADMS, what the cost savings will be, and what the impact will be on both operators and customers. Consider how existing systems can complement the new network control engine.
  • Within 1 year: Enlist a trusted partner with expertise in both grid management systems and operational efficiency to help maximise modernisation benefits via ADMS.

Dirkman concludes: “A smarter grid will require robust tools to manage both normal operations and emergencies. Outage costs are too high and both business and home consumers demand a higher level of grid uptime.”

“Traditional OMS that is poorly integrated with the real-time environment and based on a less-than-current network model will struggle to fulfill the need. By providing a single environment and user experience for SCADA, DMS, and OMS, ADMS tools and applications can enhance outage performance with better decision support and workflow. This elevates the development of the grid and simplifies the work of people who are tasked with grid operation”, he added.

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Nicolette Pombo-van Zyl has been working in the African power, energy and water sectors since 2011, first with African Utility Week and now as the Editor of ESI Africa. She is also an Advisory Board member of the Global and African Power & Energy Elites publications. With her passion for sustainable business and placing African countries on the international stage, Nicolette takes a keen interest in current affairs and technology trends.