We’re a long way to 'smart' already, says Orion chief

Use of 'ripple control' gives New Zealand a head start, says Roger sutton

There is already a degree of digital intelligence in the distribution network of lines companies, says Roger Sutton, CEO of lines company Orion, and the companies themselves have plans to grow the network’s intelligence further.

Sutton acknowledges that digital information is becoming more of a feature of the modern power-distribution network.


See also: Smart grid should be a 'national imperative', says Cisco
“There is clearly a role for IT systems integrators like Cisco,” but at this stage the detail of the company’s SmartGrid plan is still unclear to Orion, he says.

“The key thing for us is how we turn loads on and off,” Sutton says. Here, he suggests, New Zealand is ahead of most other countries, having for some decades used “ripple control” – a digital signal transmitted along the wires to turn off non-essential loads such as water heating at times of high demand.

“New Zealand is unique in how far that has penetrated,” he says.

“We’re working in collaboration with other South Island lines companies to use such tools to minimise cost and improve reliability,” Sutton says.

Orion sees such intelligence being coordinated, in time, across the entire national grid.

Major customers are already given information about the true cost of their power and being offered differential rates to encourage efficient power use, Sutton says, and this thinking is beginning to work its way into the retail market.

Earlier this year Jan Wright, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, called for acceleration in the installation of “smart” meters and household appliances into New Zealand homes (Computerworld, July 16).

At about the same time, Orion announced completion of the first stage of a project for better information on location and nature of faults on the network, using General Electric’s ENMAC system of instrumentation and software for power distribution management.

The first phase of the ENMAC development covers supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA).

The company is now installing the second phase, the distribution network management system which will enable Orion to maintain and control its network from a single viewpoint.

This, the company says, “will help to reduce the number of power outages, increase the speed of recovery from disruptions, and keep consumers better informed when the lights do go out.”

The third phase of the project is an outage management system, which will work with ENMAC to help automatically re-route power when an outage occurs, dispatch crews and help operators make better decisions for faster power restoration.

In the event of several failures, such as might occur in a major storm, crews can be more effectively used, giving higher priority to repair of faults with more severe impact, Sutton says.

ENMAC will send instructions to field crews automatically via wireless mobile networks.

The ENMAC implementation is scheduled to be complete by mid 2010.

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