Utilities tell their networks: “Smart grid, heal thyself”
Utilities tell their networks: “Smart grid, heal thyself”

Utilities tell their networks: “Smart grid, heal thyself”

As smart grids get smarter, utilities are increasingly looking for ways to enable them to diagnose and heal their own problems. 

In early January, the Idaho National Laboratory (INL), part of the US Department of Energy, announced plans to demonstrate a system of microgrids over the coming months that can restore and maintain power after a major outage – without the need for human intervention. In other words, this work looks to build power grids that can heal themselves.

“In the aftermath of natural disasters, damage to an electrical grid can slow the recovery effort and prolong human suffering,” writes Cory Hatch of INL in an article about the research work. The same applies, of course, to any other catastrophic event or, say, a cyberattack.

The researchers chose Cordova, Alaska as their demonstration site because the small fishing village in the Prince William Sound and its electrical grid are isolated from the rest of the world, relying on hydroelectric, diesel and solar power generation.

The system will include switches that can isolate one part of a microgrid, enabling undamaged parts of the grid to continue to function during an emergency. It will also employ equipment that monitors changes in the grid in real time. If the grid is damaged or disabled, those parts that are still functioning will have the intelligence to ensure that critical public services – medical centres and emergency shelters, for example – still have power. “In a sense,” writes Hatch, “the system is smart enough to reconfigure itself.”

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Growth market

The idea of self-healing in utility grids is not, in itself, a new one – although this INL experiment takes it to another, more all-encompassing level. Still, there are plenty of utilities worldwide that are looking to introduce new technologies on a more incremental basis to make grids smarter, so smart they can diagnose and heal any problems they experience.

In fact, according to a report issued this week by analyst firm Research & Markets, the global self-healing grid market will reach $2.7 billion by 2022, up from around $1.7 billion in 2017.

“The self-healing grid market is driven by factors such as the government policies and legislative mandates for T&D [transmission and distribution] utilities, complexity in distributed energy generation, and the need for protection of electric utilities from cyber attack,” write the report’s authors. The key players in the self-healing grid market include ABB, Siemens, GE, Eaton and Schneider Electric.

Read more: Battery tech will power global smart grid ambitions

Schneider and Stedin

For example, energy management giant Schneider Electric has worked with Dutch utility Stedin to create a decentralized, underground self-healing network – the first of its kind in Europe, according to Schneider executives. The self-healing unit is based on Schneider’s Easergy T200 Remote Terminal Unit. These are units are installed in electricity substations and can communicated with each other via a virtual private network.

If a fault occurs, the control centre is notified – but there’s no need to wait for an operator response, because the units will use Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure IoT platform to work together on identifying faults, isolating and repairing them.

Today, in the case of an outage that might previously have lasted two hours, the self-healing system cuts the time of re-energizing the unaffected parts of the grid to under 30 seconds.

Coming soon: Our Internet of Energy event will be taking place in Berlin, Germany on 6 & 7 March 2018. Attendees will hear how companies in this sector are harnessing the power of IoT to transform distributed energy resources. 

Internet of Energy DE