Transitioning from DNO to DSO: The Role of Visibility

20 March 2018

Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) around the world are facing the daunting task of transitioning from being Network Operators to broadening the scope of their roles and deepening their operational reach to become Distribution System Operators (DSOs). This fundamental shift is being brought about by the transition to a lower carbon energy system and, most importantly, the increase in distributed generation.

DNOs have not needed visibility of their low voltage network until now as the electrical system was designed for one-way power flow from a few centralised, fossil fuel power stations, transported long distances across the transmission grid and then stepped down to the distribution network where it was delivered to households. It was not expected that consumers would become producers of energy in their own right nor that they would actively shift their energy usage in response to market signals. Tariffs like Economy 7 went a way to addressing this, however we are now in a new era where a household can no longer be modelled as simply as before. The volume of unexplained settlement data has been increasing as household consumption patterns have shifted away from the standard energy consumer profiles. These new, pro-active consumers are making the low voltage energy profile more complex which in turn are causing technical and operational issues for DNOs.

If the management of low voltage networks remains unchanged, operating costs for DNOs will rise substantially as they would need to build in additional contingency to accommodate the growing amount of ‘unknown’ distribution connected generation. In order to adapt to this new energy mix without incurring substantially higher costs, DNOs will require far more insight and visibility to their low voltage networks. DNOs are therefore now looking to perform system operator functions such as conducting more detailed network analysis, planning and operations to gain increased insight and control of the increasingly intermittent generation sources connecting to their low voltage networks. While DNOs will take on tasks performed by TSOs, they will not be able to execute them in the same way because manual control of their networks would require a fundamental shift in their staff’s skill sets and their organisation structure. Instead DNOs can leverage measurement and automation technologies to unleash the potential of distributed generation and transition to becoming DSOs.

DNOs are pro-actively looking to address this new challenge however many have been doing so with a traditional mindset. Smart meters for example have been considered by some as a means of gaining visibility of the low voltage network, however the data intervals currently proposed by smart meter manufacturers in the UK are just not fast enough to provide meaningful and actionable data to DNOs. In order to become system operators in their own right, DNOs require data every few seconds, not every few minutes. As every engineer knows, your ability to control the network is only as good as the measurements you’re using. Therefore if DNOs had access to highly granular, ultra-fast measurements that they could analyse, store and scale up sustainably, they would gain the network insight they need to make the fundamental role shift.

Reactive’s GridMetrix provides real-time, deep network visibility which will allow DNOs to remotely re-configure and plan their networks with enhanced data insight. GridMetrix is a proven, IP backed measurement, analytics and control platform that will enable DNOs to move from static models to empirical, direct measurements. Data generated by GridMetrix can be used to remotely update and adjust operating parameters and margins and will ultimately allow for the direct dispatch of assets. It has the potential to enable DNOs to increase their prediction capability, defer network reinforcement, operate in a leaner and smarter way and reduce costs for themselves and for their customers.

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