California Utility Monitors Power Grid with Analytics

New visually-oriented software helps the Sacramento Municipal Utility District keep the power grid operating at peak efficiency.

by / April 1, 2014

One California utility company recently completed a face-lift. The Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) can now clearly see the state of its grid, displayed on a 30-foot by 8-foot LED video wall, via Space-Time Insight's geospatial and visual analytics software. 

Using real-time grid analytics and performance metrics, the software helps operators make informed decisions quickly, and helps maintenance crews ensure a healthy grid, said Michael Greenhalgh, SMUD smart grid project manager. 

SMUD, the nation’s sixth-largest community-owned electric utility serving 1.4 million customers, adopted the software, in addition to a new distribution operations center and other upgrades, as a part of its $308 million smart grid project, nearly half of which was paid for with federal grant money.

With the software, pictured at left, which correlates, analyzes, and visualizes utility grid data, the user can get a full picture of what is happening, said Steve Ehrlich, senior vice president of marketing and product management for Space-Time Insight. "We call this situational intelligence--the idea that you can take data from everywhere and pull it into one place and make a faster, better, more accurate decision as a result of being able to see it and understand it," he said.

Using the software, operators can zoom in to any residential neighborhood to see the load and voltage for each conductor and transformer, and also view historic trends. They use this real-time information to ensure the safety of the distribution network and get alerts on any outages. Additionally, planners, engineers, and designers use it for distribution, transmission, and vegetation management. 

Before the smart grid project, Greenhalgh said many customers thought SMUD already had access to power outage information and that they knew whenever the power was out. "We didn't know until you called us," Greenhalgh said. "We had no idea how much power was being consumed on the ground."

SMUD's smart technology along with the geospatial and visual analytics software has given SMUD real-time, visual information about where an outage is, what caused the outage, and where crews are currently located, Ehrlich said. 

To give SMUD a holistic view of its grid, the software pulls from 15 data sources, and alerts SMUD staff during specific circumstances. The map reflects different happenings, such as maintenance work, wind or other weather conditions with colored dots, displayed over a Google map, indicating how many customers are affected.

Space-Time Insight's software prevailed in a competitive bidding process because of its maturity in visual analytics, and the ability to synthesize information and layer it over a geospatial map, Greenhalgh said. 

Previously, SMUD ran manual reports through an SAP system for maintenance work, and for outages, operators relied on an Intergraph outage maintenance system. Greenhalgh explained that operators could do many of the same tasks they can now, but the information was static rather than geospatial. SMUD still uses many different providers to store and maintain its data, relying on the Space-Time Insight software to display and analyze it.  

SMUD began implementing the software in September 2012, and ended phase two in January 2014. While phase one gave distribution system operators reactive awareness, phase two addressed maintenance and planning and more proactive analytics, Greenhalgh said. 

The deployment also allows SMUD to determine how many electric vehicles reside in certain neighborhoods to ensure the power grid does not get overwhelmed by them, he said. 

Ehrlich said the scope of data and what SMUD has accomplished in a short time is impressive, noting that some utility projects can span many years.  

In addition to information governance, SMUD staff is also discussing more visualization capabilities, such as transmission data and other distribution system devices.

Greenhalgh said what's most important about the software is it provides that "face" of information for SMUD. "The more information you have, the better you are able to serve your customers. You are able to improve reliability, and you are able to ensure safety for your own employees," he said.

Jessica Hughes Contributing Writer

Jessica Hughes is a regular contributor to Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines.

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