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Distribution automation for a failproof, diversified energy grid

Jun 1, 2022

Renewable energy generation accounted for nearly a third of the total electricity in Australia’s National Electricity Market in 2021. While this is great for the planet, it adds another layer of complexity for energy grid managers. The solution? Smart grids. Here, Johan van der Veen, an account manager specialising in energy at remote monitoring and control expert Ovarro, explains how distribution automation makes smart grids possible.

The diversification into renewable energy, coupled with rising demand for renewables from more eco-conscious businesses and consumers, provides challenges for grid managers. The transition to solar, wind and wave power means that energy production is as changeable as the weather — quite literally. Not only do these power sources rely on variable sun and wind conditions, they are powered by medium- and low-voltages that make them even more unpredictable.

Australia is also the world leader in rooftop solar energy generation, with more than three million rooftops generating 17 gigawatts of electricity in 2021. This has created a dramatic increase in the number of households feeding energy back into the grid, something existing infrastructure wasn’t designed for.  

As a result, the energy distribution landscape is changing. Rather than the traditional top-down structure ― where one producer supplies energy to many customers ― there is now a shifting dynamic of energy being fed back-and-forth. Power generation and usage are seeing peaks and troughs and, if supply and demand don’t align, it can cause a higher rate of incidents like power losses, unavailability or, conversely, an energy surplus.

This has led to controversial proposals to charge solar panel owners for exporting energy in periods where generation is high.

What’s certain is that energy grids need to work harder. Without huge amounts of investment in extra infrastructure, the easiest way to achieve this is to make them more efficient — smarter, even. To this end, Datawatt, now part of Ovarro, has been supplying distribution automation technologies to make grids smarter since 1977 — well before the term smart grid even existed.

Work smarter, not harder

Distribution automation covers the final part of the energy network, between the last station and customers’ homes and businesses. While, in the past, this section of the grid and its low-voltage power sources have unmanaged apart from meters, recent years have seen a trend towards extending monitoring and control activities.

Smart grids rely on monitoring equipment to collect data and analyse it. All this information can be used to monitor and predict energy supply and demand, helping grid operators to make faster, more informed decisions, and to divert energy away from where there is a surplus, and towards where it is needed. Data can also be used to predict problems or identify them quickly once they do occur, which helps grid operators take preventative or remedial action.

In layman’s terms, an electricity grid is like a chain of cables: a failure in one link means the whole chain doesn’t work. Smart grids can automatically identify and isolate the fault location, remotely switching gear so customers are supplied from another part of the grid. This also helps tackle issues of supply and demand misalignment. As a result, smart technologies result in a more stable grid.

Everything in one place

Smart technologies are incredibly effective at managing unpredictable mid and low-voltage renewable power sources.  Ovarro offers remote monitoring and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems designed for distribution grids. The Datawatt Smart Grid (DSG) series of remote telemetry units (RTUs) operates with flexibility and security in mind, adhering to European Network for Cyber Security (ENCS) security standards. The DSG operates on Linux, the modern open-source platform known for its reliability and stability.

Ovarro RTUs, like the DSG, collect and manage data, before making it available to other systems for processing and analysing. As well as RTUs, Ovarro assembles cabinets that include a combination of its own products and third party hardware, offering complete solutions that are quick and easy-to-install in the field.

For smaller operators, there is the Datawatt Stream webscada, a central system and web portal that collects data in real-time and makes it immediately available on digital devices. Ideal for controlling different locations and processes, this easy-to-use system can ensure worry-free management and maintenance. Furthermore, the data can also be imported into the customer’s central system, so everything is available in one place. 

It’s access to data that makes grids smart. Therefore, RTUs and SCADA systems are the building blocks of modern smart grids, collecting and analysing the large amounts of process data needed for faster, and better, decision making.

As the energy sector comes to rely more heavily on renewable energy generation, more effective distribution management will become essential. Automation solutions, made possible with RTUs like the DSG series, can collect, analyse and act on data. This reduces complexity for energy grid managers, helping them prevent power outages and resolve faults quickly.

For more information on remote monitoring for energy grids, head to Ovarro’s website.