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How will information technology enable the transition to a DSO model?

Information technology will be a key enabler for the transition to smarter grids, and the evolution of traditional network operators to more active Distribution System Operators (DSOs).  It can also act as a barrier to change if network management systems are unable to keep pace with the speed of change elsewhere in the industry.  In this blog, we explore some of the key IT related issues and challenges that the more active DSO will need to address. 

Realising an active DSO model, involving dynamic interactions with network customers and the Transmission System Operator (TSO), will require the development and adoption of technologies not currently deployed on the distribution network or within the corporate and operational IT estate that supports it.  The technologies required include those described as smart grid solutions, such as Active Network Management and other automation solutions but also developments in analytic and process management capabilities that have traditionally been less well integrated with operational technology solutions. Below we discuss a number of areas where technology will play a key role in accelerating the transition to an (active) DSO:

  • enabling interoperability across boundaries - visibility of network status in real-time and enabling the control of network assets beyond traditional boundaries by different parties (DSO, TSO or aggregator) depending on the needs of the network.  The timeframes taken to agree a base protocol(s) and functionality on which to develop this interoperability will be a key milestone in enabling greater interoperability
  • evolving to full system rather than point asset analysis - combining geospatial, network telemetry (SCADA and smart meter) and electrical connectivity information enables the asset strategy and network operation functions to best optimise the network over both the short and long term 
  • operationalising decentralised and centralised solutions - defining the architecture principles and standards for solutions that can be deployed upon the network and that do not require continuous supervision and control from a central control solution enables localised conditions to be best accommodated and also for additional parties to assume control if required
  • integrating third parties - the sharing of network information and strategic scenario planning with third parties such as aggregators and owners i.e. network customers of generation assets to better support investment and the definition of commercial propositions for Active Network Management and Demand Side Response solutions
  • greater visibility and granularity of network data to inform control and planning decisions - increased visibility at low voltages combined with big data style analytic capabilities provide the ability to process the significant volume of information that will enable low voltage control and proactive, rather than reactive low voltage investment activities. 

Adoption of new information technologies will not enable a more active DSO model on its own.  There is a considerable investment to be made by those who will operate, support and deliver this technology.  Shortlisted below are key competencies in which the owners of distribution networks will have to invest and develop:

  • building internal capability to evaluate, design and deliver Smart Grid technologies that cross traditional definitions of operational and information technology.  The operating models and skills that have been fit for purpose to date will require development to fully harness the available opportunity
  • developing an understanding of how technology can benefit the end-to-end value chain within a business (not just a business unit) and also the industry value chain.  Development of the relationships between industry parties, regulatory bodies and vendors, and forming agreement on the necessary questions to address will yield greater benefit.  Not doing this risks vendors developing solutions to a question they do not fully understand or is of a low value to the network business or customer.

The distribution businesses that best develop understanding and capability to exploit the technologies discussed will be those that have the opportunity to exploit the benefits of the active DSO model earlier as well as being able to set the standards and architecture that other distributors and associated parties will have to follow. With continued changes in European energy market landscape in 2016, discussion on DSO model will become even more urgent.

Back to January 2016

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