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The next big smart grid race? It starts at the end of the driveway (the distribution transformer)
Published:2014-08-12 Hits:1830

The race to the end of the driveway

“Smart Grid” to this day has been mainly about the meters. 

Years ago, actual meter readers would read your meter for billing purposes. Then came AMR (Automated Meter Reading), which provided one-way directional communications to meter readers, who could be in the driveway or in their trucks and still collect the readings. 

Then AMR transcended into AMI (Advanced Metering Infrastructure), which is meters with advanced communications technology that require no meter reader at all. AMI came in many flavors, using RF communications (both licensed and unlicensed bands), PLC (power line carrier) or even Wi-Fi based communications. In North America, self-identifying, self-forming and self-healing mesh networks are quite popular.

 

What AMI was supposed to do

smart grid, modern grid, smart grid technology, distribution transformers, smart meters, grid optimization, electric utilities

AMI enabled functions such as DR (demand response) and TOU (time of use) billing, and provided customers with even more insight into their consumption habits.  But the big thing AMI was supposed to do was enable a “smart grid”…to enable different things such as distribution automation, VVO (volt/var optimization), CVR (conservation voltage reduction) and outage detection and restoration.  Naturally, smart meters do not equal a smart grid, but the mindset was that having an AMI infrastructure would enable the start of having a smart grid.

Now…the time has come.  Millions of smart meters have been deployed globally.  Utilities are now looking at what else they can do with this meter network. They are pressuring AMI providers to deliver on the promise of adding things to their AMI network.  So…what is the next big thing related to this deployment?

 

Just look to your driveway

You need to look no further than the end of the driveway.  This is where the pole top or pad mount transformer resides.  A pole top (above ground) or pad mount (below ground) transformer powers anywhere from 5-8 homes and is the last voltage transition in stepping down voltage before it gets to your home. 

There are so many things that can be learned from one of these transformers…such as power quality, phase imbalance, theft (non-technical losses), CVR, VVO just to name a few.  Monitoring these devices can also strengthen an existing AMI mesh by providing additional nodes to build out the network at a sometimes elevated position.  It is a natural fit to focus on the end of the driveway on these devices as the next phase of the smart grid.  These assets may not be as expensive as a large power transformer…but they are absolutely critical and cause pain and suffering to customers and utilities when they go out of service.

But who will own this space?  Who is going to win that race?  Will it be the AMI companies (Silver Spring Networks, Itron, Landis & Gyr)?  Will it be transformer monitoring companies that exist today (GridSense, Grid 20/20, Qinetiq)?  Will it be big players coming out of the substation (SEL, Schneider Electric)?  Or could it be a combination/partnership of these players?  The point is that there has been a tremendous investment into smart meters globally…and this is the foundation that utilities should and will build their Smart Grid on.  The logical step is to go to the next level up, which are the distribution transformers.

So the next smart grid party is going to be at the end of your driveway.  You need to get there or you will miss the party!

(Reprinted from Smart GridNews.com)

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