Monday, October 31, 2011

Finding Gold in Asset Health Management

Last week was the Focal Point Users Group Meeting in Atlanta where I gave a presentation on smart grid technologies and my thoughts on how utilities are making investments to modernize their T&D grids. One of the areas that I discussed was asset health since Focal Point is the business intelligence platform that ABB and Ventyx use for asset health solutions. On the flight to Atlanta for the meeting, I was reading a book on social media by Ron Ploof titled Read this First and he had a comment regarding data collection and analysis. “Collecting data without performing analysis is like buying a gold mine without extracting the gold. You may own property worth billions, but without mining it, it’s just another mountain.” I am quite sure that the author was not thinking about the health of electric utility assets, but the comment is applicable to the approach that many utilities are taking today regarding their assets. Assets such as transformers and high-voltage breakers are monitored, inspected, or both, but rarely are the data routinely analyzed.

Why is asset health important? Utilities are usually interested in asset health for two reasons. The first reason is that utility infrastructure is aging and aging assets can challenge utilities in achieving performance and reliability metrics. The utility workforce is also aging with many employees becoming eligible to retire over the next five years, taking valuable asset knowledge and expertise out the door.

The second reason is that utilities have limited resources and personnel and there is always pressure to reduce operations and maintenance expense since this line item directly impacts the utility bottom line. Asset health solutions that can be capitalized and that drive savings providing a return on investment can be attractive to utilities.

The asset health solutions that utilities are implementing today are end-to-end solutions that support the business process of maintaining assets to meet reliability, performance, and compliance goals. The end-to-end solutions include asset knowledge and expertise; sensors and monitors; communication gateways; data integration, archiving, and storage; equipment performance models and algorithms; analytics and dashboards; and integration to asset and work management for supply chain management and work execution. Many utilities have sensors and monitors in the field and most utilities have enterprise-level systems for asset and work management, but there are often gaps in the end-to-end work integrated workflow.

The most frequent gap is the business intelligence module which is essential for asset health decision support and managing asset data. This module processes data from multiple sources such as sensors, SCADA historians, and test and inspection reports. The performance models and analytics assess the health of the assets and provide the information that: triggers alarms, initiates condition-based work orders, feeds asset health dashboards, and drives the decision support processes. In addition to alarms and the information needed to determine the health of assets for condition-based maintenance, this BI module also enables a transparent process for life-cycle management of assets – determining when to retire and when to refurbish or up rate assets.

I keep thinking about the comment from one utility executive. With a bit of frustration, he stated that his wife’s car has better health monitoring than his transmission system assets. Going back to the quote from Ron Ploof, we can improve how we mine the asset data gold that we have.

For additional information on asset health, here are a couple of links. The McDonnell Group did a study on utility asset health and their whitepaper can be found here. An ABB article on life extensions and safety upgrades for aging distribution equipment can be found here.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Public vs. Private: the Smart Grid Communications Debate

Guest post: Matthew Knott, ABB

One of the few aspects not up to debate in the smart grid market is the importance of a communications network. In order to take full advantage of the benefits smart grid technologies have to offer, the utility’s approach must be comprehensive. Therefore, communications function as the backbone of the smart grid enabling complete interoperability between new and existing infrastructure and proving new business cases.

In terms of communication for the smart grid, this is where universal agreement ends and the debates begin. One major topic of discussion in this realm is the use of public versus private networks. This subject has been discussed in conferences, webinars, forums, and various other media outlets throughout the industry. After listening to the voices of many industry experts, it is clear there are some key advantages of each option to consider before making a final decision:


Bandwidth – Most utilities are just at the cusp of the new data explosion that will help optimize the grid in terms of increased efficiency and reliability. However, these benefits are going to require higher bandwidth to allow for real-time reporting of energy consumption to provide direct load control for reserves or peak shaving. Public networks can offer the bandwidth needed for implementing smart grid applications at a large scale.

Reliability/Maintenance – With public networks, ownership is not the concern of the utility. Should power and communication equipment go down in the case of a bad storm, utilities can concentrate on their core competency, restoring power back to the consumer. At the same time, the public cellular carrier will do what they do best, bring communications back online. Without a public network, utilities will undoubtedly feel pressure when it comes to maintaining communications.

Simplicity – Along the same lines as reliability, with public network infrastructure already in place, the utility can easily utilize this in developing effective pilot programs in a shorter period of time.


Security – This is perhaps the most emphasized advantage of private networks. With control of the network, the utility has oversight to limit the number of entry points in the network making it easier to identify and prevent any threats. Moreover, the design of the private network can be implemented to directly address the security needs of mission critical applications.

Coverage – The motivation behind communication coverage differs between public and private networks. Utilities require more ubiquitous coverage over a territory rather than based on the number of consumers since communications are also important with remote equipment along the distribution grid such as capacitors or reclosers. Thus, private networks have more flexibility to provide the necessary coverage

Lifetime Cost – Private networks do require additional capital to put the infrastructure in place, however, in the long term private networks can be more cost effective due to lack of ongoing monthly subscription costs. These costs only increase as additional points are introduced into the system. This allows the typical private network to have a shorter payback period.

Overall, the best response to this debate, in my view, is one that we’ve all heard before, it depends. Each utility has a different variety of customer segments and must position them accordingly. I am finding that, most often, the way to best utilize the advantages of both public and private networks is to develop a hybrid solution allowing utilities to effectively address their customer’s needs. For example, a utility’s rural customer segment with poor cellular coverage would not be best served with a complete public network solution. Having a deep understanding of current operational capabilities, current/future smart grid approach, and the accurately segmented customer base will ensure the correct path is carved for developing and implementing a successful communications strategy.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Incorporating IEC 61850 interoperability into Smart Grid systems

Guest post: Jeff Vaughan, ABB

There has been heightened interest in the IEC 61850 interoperability standard as a strategy in deploying smart grid systems. Those familiar with the standard realize that this is a comprehensive set of standards with the goal of providing better interoperability between a variety of IEDs (intelligent electronic devices). True interoperability promises great reductions in cost for designing, replicating, modifying, and implementing systems.

Many mistakenly refer to IEC61850 as a protocol. While protocol is an important element, the standard actually goes much deeper. When many people hear the word protocol, they see this as requiring a wholesale change out of existing communications networks and devices. This can become overwhelming when in fact there are options that allow implementation of IEC 61850 in increments. This allows users to obtain immediate benefits while building confidence.

A few examples include:

- 61850 GOOSE messaging may be used between IEDs to eliminate physical wiring and increase speed of interaction while continuing to use DNP to communicate upwards to SCADA and higher level systems where slower communications updates are acceptable. This opens new applications for end users because of the GOOSE high speed capability but does not necessitate a change in the SCADA communications infrastructure.

- Station Bus protocol (IEC 61850-8-1) can simplify the interface between IEDs, HMIs, etc. within the substation network while continuing to use a DNP interface to SCADA. Gateway devices are on the market which allow a combination of station bus compatible IEDs to coexist with legacy IEDs communicating via other protocols such as DNP or Modbus. The gateway can therefore provide the 61850 interface to other systems.

- As Process Bus (IEC 61850-9-2) devices become readily available, the opportunity to eliminate copper wiring between CTs and IEDs provides tremendous savings opportunities but could be done independently from Station Bus implementations.

The variety of 61850-based solutions and their benefits is becoming more apparent. Many technical papers now exist describing specific implementations of IEC 61850 based systems, while numerous consultants and users have set up IEC 61850 interoperability labs to determine what applications they will be implementing into production.

As the market is rapidly adapting this standard as a key element of their smart grid systems in order to begin achieving the benefits, those not embracing this will find themselves at a disadvantage.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Interoperability and Cyber Security

This week I moderated a panel discussion at an ABB sponsored event for utility executives that addressed interoperability and cyber security issues. (Read more on this panel at Greentech Media.)

We planned our event and discussion a few months ago, but the timing coincided with the release of position statements from the GridWise Alliance and its Interoperability and Cyber security Work Group (ICWG). This month, the ICWG completed position statements on both interoperability and cyber security. In addition, the ICWG is currently developing the agenda for a briefing on Capitol Hill that will educate members of Congress and their staff on the work the industry is doing address cyber security issues.

GridWise Alliance Principles for Grid Interoperability
The position statement that provides the GridWise Alliance principles for Grid Interoperability is available here.

Key points from the statement include the comment that “a more interconnected, automated, and information-rich electricity delivery system provides the opportunity to deliver a safer and more reliable interoperation, and to mitigate threats to the grid and electric user’s privacy from accidental and intentional harm…. The Smart Grid Policy Center defines interoperability as ‘the seamless, end-to-end connectivity of hardware and software from end-use devices through the T&D system to the power source, enhancing the coordination of energy flows with real-time information and analysis.’1 The GridWise Alliance believes that with sound planning, thorough design, and coordinated execution, a safe, secure, and reliable smart grid can be achieved.”

Outlined below are the key principles endorsed by the Alliance for interoperability.

1. Promote stakeholder neutrality and utilize non-discriminatory language.
2. Minimize intellectual property encumbrances.
3. Develop standards based on protocols and support formal testing.
4. Incorporate plans for ongoing evolution.
5. Create standards that are cost-effective to implement, enhance, and maintain.

GridWise Alliance Principles for Cyber Security
The position statement that provides the GridWise Alliance principles for Cyber security is available here.

The Cyber security position statement notes that “from smart meters to smart appliances to more intelligent control of distribution, transmission, and generation, an advanced grid offers the potential of improved utilization of all generation and storage resources, increased operational efficiency and reliability, and enhanced opportunity for customers to make choices about energy use…. A more interconnected, automated, and information-rich electricity delivery system also provides the opportunity to deliver a safer and more reliable interoperation, and to mitigate threats to the grid and electric user’s privacy from accidental and intentional harm…. The GridWise Alliance believes that with sound planning, thorough design, and coordinated execution, a safe, secure, and reliable smart grid can be achieved.”

The five key principles endorsed by the Alliance for cyber security are:

1. Involve all stakeholders and take full advantage of and be aligned with existing recognized processes and work.
2. Utilize a comprehensive risk management approach.
3. Provide clarity to all stakeholders.
4. Construct a cyber security framework that is focused specifically for electric grid applications.
5. Create and adopt uniform verification and test procedures for standards and guidelines.

If I go back to my panel discussion again, the two panelists were Paul Molitor from NEMA and Mark Browning from ComEd. We did not issue any position statements on interoperability and cyber security for the smart grid, but Paul and Mark made some great points on the two issues. For interoperability, we discussed the key concepts in the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (SGIP) process for Testing and Certification:

1. The process is ISO-based
2. Best practices for governance, lab qualification, technical design, and cyber security are incorporated
3. The process defines the roles and responsibilities for the Interoperability Testing & Certification Authority (ITCA)

For cyber security, some of the key learnings and observations included:

1. Clarity of roles and responsibilities is critical
a. Information Technology (IT) vs. Operational Technology (OT)
b. IT vs. Business
c. Vendor Relationships

2. Security design and security support
a. Design security in from the beginning
b. Security designs must be end-to-end
c. Plan for the on-going care and feeding – upgrades, patches, and life cycle investments
d. It is not just about technology – proper controls are a necessity

3. Resources
a. Hiring and retaining qualified security resources
b. Volume of work continues to grow (e.g. NERC CIP, Smart Grid, etc.)

To wrap up, I am not a member of the GridWise Alliance ICWG, but I am a member of the GridWise Alliance Implementation Working Group. We are working on a white paper that addresses the smart grid value proposal which should be released in November. I’ll have some comments on that work when it is released.