WITH ALL THE EMPHASIS BEING PUT ON SMART GRID technology-including large investments to upgrade our nation's antiquated energy distribution system-it's likely that a robust and intelligent energy network will emerge in the future.

But wait. That smart grid might not be as smart if utilities overlook key networking and infrastructure issues, such as moving from a centralized network architecture to a distributed model that will allow them to take full advantage of the benefits that a smarter grid can provide. Indeed, experts warn that a highly intelligent grid may never reach its potential if steps are not put in place to integrate important features like voltage monitoring, cybersecurity and substation automation with advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) and demand response systems.

''Unfortunately, a lot of the smart functions that actually comprise the smart grid are being left out of the initial discussions,'' said Patrick Esposito, chief operating officer, Augusta Systems. ''Most of the focus has been on AMI and demand response. It isn't giving justice to the opportunity that lies before America as it looks to revolutionize the way its distribution infrastructure functions.''

Indeed, if utilities want to tap into newly available data to improve efficiencies for voltage and line monitoring, substation monitoring and automation, outage management and other issues, they need to make plans to manage large amounts of data that were not previously available. For example, many utilities are installing AMI networks on top of existing supervisory control and data acquisition systems and outage management systems. Once those systems can communicate with each other, future infrastructure investments will push data intelligence into the field to not only leverage the capabilities of those systems independently, but to draw them into a network-based model where the devices share information with one another.


Allegheny Energy is in the early stages of exploring those options and is taking a unique approach to assure that its smart grid investments reap the biggest ROI possible. Instead of rolling out a smart meter program as a first step, the utility opted to focus on automation and putting intelligence in the field for distributed intelligence and remote data integration. John Ahr, manager of smart grid programs for Allegheny, says his company wants to make sure it can utilize data that was previously unavailable to further leverage its smart grid benefits. Allegheny does have one smart meter pilot in development, but it is looking far beyond the more immediate benefits provided by AMI and demand response systems through a series of four distinct smart grid demonstration projects.

Ahr says that his company has witnessed a lot of experimentation going on in the industry with AMI and demand response, but that Allegheny wanted to make sure it delivered the best value for its customers by leveraging every capability that the smart grid can deliver.

''The benefits of moving from centralized network architecture to a distributed model can be enormous,'' said Ahr. ''Utilities can take actions at the field level based upon voltage monitoring data, and can better route power by taking advantage of algorithm support in the field. In addition, the data produced from smart meters themselves must also be harnessed, representing another reason why smart grid devices, regardless of their core function, should be brought together under a common infrastructure.''

Ahr stresses that if meter data and information from other monitoring devices are not pulled together in the field, utilities may not have enough real-time information to prevent outages, one of the core benefits of smart grid technology.

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