Grid modernization is essential for
electric utilities to power our future
reliably and efficiently. As electric utilities
progress along the path of modernizing
platforms and infrastructure, there are
numerous objectives they must address,
including meeting net-zero emissions
targets, maintaining affordability for their customer base, increasing
hardening and resiliency, and more
generally, adapting to the changing
landscape of our energy industry. And
as an organization works towards these
lofty goals, it must both modernize its
technology and reskill people.
The rise of fresh players in the energy industry, coupled with advancing technologies, creates increasing complexities for utilities as they plan for the future. Grid modernization initiatives require grid planners to not only look at hardening, resiliency, and affordability, but to have the foresight to consider the industry transformations on the horizon. Complexity for grid planners will only continue to increase with the expansion of distributed energy resources (DERs), increasing customer expectations, extreme weather, and regulatory considerations. The evolution of a bi-directional power grid and additional players in the marketplace will require grid planners to consider many potential solutions for investing billions of dollars each decade.
Grid planners need planning processes and tools that are faster, more flexible, and more robust to address growing complexities. By developing these, an electric utility can better prepare for their grid investments as technology advances and the industry transforms.
Grid Planning Challenges
Based on our experience, many utilities execute
grid planning throughout the year, but have limited
coverage of all circuits. Grid analysis is traditionally a manual, time-consuming process due to a lack of
modernized tools and processes. As a result, only a portion of the circuits on the grid are evaluated in each planning cycle for many utilities, and some
circuits may go years without review and investment.
Consistently producing optimal solutions – Solutions need to be justifiable to regulatory commissions and customer bases to not only be approved, but also ensure the electric utility can achieve its own intended outcomes and results. Inconsistencies in current state stem from differences in solutioning techniques among planners, variable tool sets, and the inability of antiquated tools to produce optimal solutions. Additionally, the added complexity of grid planning may require additional headcount if old processes and tools are maintained.
Lack of efficient processing– Grid planning programs often require many manual steps and time-consuming analysis efforts. The variables and inputs for forecasting and solutioning are also increasing, resulting in a high volume of required calculations. The outcome is a reduced frequency in solution delivery to only a portion of the grid each cycle.
Disparate data systems – Data inputs for forecasting and distribution planning tend to be in several systems. By consolidating in a central repository, a utility can more effectively leverage the latest technology for modeling grid solutions, including the many benefits of the cloud such as computational power, speed, reliability, and up-time.
Data quality – Grid data is complex to manage, and many utilities struggle with data quality across their assets. Data inaccuracies can result in poor solutioning as teams run power flow simulations for new construction projects. The outcomes may result in poor decisioning and ultimately misses on the expected return from the planned investments.
Solutioning and Benefits
With the limitations facing grid planning
organizations, as well as aggressive emissions
targets through 2050, utilities will benefit from
assessing their capabilities and modernizing
their tools and processes, driving value for grid
planners and the broader customer base.
By making investments in people and technology,
electric utilities will be able to proactively prepare
for the future. This includes generating optimized
solutions based on current strategies and
jurisdictional considerations. Investments need to
begin upstream with forecasting capabilities and
continue downstream with the solutions that are
identified for final grid investment decisions. Making these investments today will position utilities
to successfully navigate the evolving landscape.
UTILIZE TECHNOLOGY AND PROCESSES TO MANAGE KEY
ASSUMPTIONS AND INPUTS
Grid Planners have numerous inputs and
variables to consider in support of their business
stakeholders. This includes upstream processes
such as forecasting, as well as adjustments that need to be made for different solution
strategies. For example, photovoltaic systems,
wind generation, broader renewables, and DERs
are critical to prioritize based on assumptions of future growth. A flexible, nimble, data-driven
solution will allow for changing forecasts and
assumptions around new technologies and new
customer programs, to name just a few. Having
technology in place is critical to ensure solutions
are optimized to meet strategic goals in parallel
with the evolution of the industry.
AUTOMATED ANALYSIS AND SOLUTIONING TO PROVIDE
CONSISTENCY DESPITE INCREASING COMPLEXITY
Many grid planning organizations require large
headcounts to solution small portions of the grid
each cycle. By automating processes associated
with forecasting, solutioning, and validation,
electric utilities can eliminate manual tasks and
drive consistency in the output. Solutions can be
produced across the entire grid and prioritized
according to short and long-term strategic
roadmaps. Grid planners will also have increased
capacity to focus on higher-value activities
like validating the solutions, which provides
justification for stakeholders.
LEVERAGE THE CLOUD TO INCREASE SPEED, FREQUENCY,
AND BREADTH OF SOLUTIONS
Migrating grid planning functions to the cloud
will allow for faster processing and more
frequent solutioning based upon continuous
improvements from artificial intelligence (AI)
and changing inputs. Utilizing the cloud
ensures scalability, speed, and flexibility while
also offering cost efficiencies. The speed,
frequency, and breadth of solutions will
position electric utilities to manage changing
assumptions on a shorter timeline. Additionally,
cloud computing power can allow for full grid
solutioning on a regular, ongoing basis as
these capabilities mature.
PLAN FOR THE NEAR TERM WITH A VISION FOR THE FUTURE
Consideration for an electric utility’s immediate
goals and longer-term strategies is critical to
future success. This can also include localized
strategies, jurisdictional considerations, and
operations such as bi-directional power flow.
Many grid improvement projects require long lead
times for planning, engineering, and construction, so optimizing solutions and investment
decisions across different time horizons is
critical. Consistently looking at short term
needs and longer-term roadmaps allow utilities
to meet evolving customer expectations,
maintain affordability, and increase resiliency
and reliability, while also allowing for cost
Building a roadmap can drive significant value for your organization and your customers.
It can modernize grid planning processes and tools to optimize grid investments as part of the clean energy transition, while also helping meet customer expectations
It can automate grid planning capabilities allowing for repeatability, as well as cost savings and risk mitigation
It can leverage cloud computing power, speed, and scalability to handle the large volume of variables and calculations needed for forecasting and optimizing grid solutions
Modernizing the Grid at a Fortune 500 Utility
CapTech recently collaborated with a Fortune 500 electric utility in the development of tools and associated business process changes to automate grid analysis and solution generation. This program involved generating a long-term, hourly forecast of kilowatt usage by both circuit and meter, programmatically identifying violations on those circuits through automated powerflow simulations, and using data science to find optimal solutions to solve those violations using a variety of different solutioning methods.
We are transitioning these tools into the cloud, which will result in efficiency improvements and enhancements that lead to more flexibility, security, and cost-savings. Ultimately, the new processes will allow for greater coverage of more impactful circuit reviews during each cycle.
John leads CapTech’s Energy and Utilities practice, driving innovation and sharing best practices
across our client partners. Additionally, he serves as an account executive for one of our largest
utilities clients, working to ensure successful delivery. He has more than 14 years of consulting
experience with more than a decade supporting utilities clients.
Senior Manager, Industry Practitioner
Chris is a Senior Manager at CapTech with 10+ years of experience leading software
development teams across a variety of industries. For the past 4 years, Chris has specialized in the
energy industry leading products that address a utility’s top strategic priorities. As a skilled Agilist
and product owner, he has created highly effective teams within both data analytics and web
Senior Data Engineering Consultant
Carter serves as a lead data engineer on a product team for a Fortune 500 electric utility. With
certifications in Apache Spark and AWS services, he is currently leading the effort to transition their
big data ETL pipelines into the cloud. He has also developed extensive knowledge in the energy and
utilities field, working there for his most of his career.