Gaining visibility of a DER-integrated grid – how distribution networks can learn to see their grid in a new light

Gaining visibility of a DER-integrated grid

Historically, DSO’s visibility of their networks has been surprisingly limited. This is most keenly illustrated by the fact that in many instances they are made aware of outages only when customers call their energy suppliers to complain of a power cut. Since consumption was fairly consistent and variation was based on easily anticipated behaviour, the grid operator could be fairly comfortable with this lack of visibility.

However, DER uptake means that this approach to the performance of the network is no longer sufficient. The growth of intermittent generation embedded inside the distribution network as well as the imminent transition to electric vehicles are just two of the factors which increase the risk of congestion and consequent outages, and consequently network operators must get a clearer picture of how these resources are performing in order to operate in both the short and long term.

First of all, network operators must gain access to more data about what is going on in their network. This is a particularly challenging issue for the Low Voltage network for two reasons. The first is the increase in complexity of the grid at this level; with so many more cables and connections to monitor it is a much more complicated task to identify and visualise performance. Additionally, GIS data mapping the exact topology of the network is often lacking, and it is a resource-intensive process to improve this for such vast infrastructure.

The second is the cost of both retrofitting devices to report on performance and the deployment of new sensors and monitoring equipment. At higher voltages, the ROI for this investment is very clear but in the LV network the volume of devices required makes the cost-benefit analysis far shakier at the current cost of installing the sensors. In order to overcome this, the roll-out of these devices must be optimised. Our research shows that utilities are still hesitant to make this investment until there are better ways to ensure an efficient deployment, with several saying that AI could provide the answer, but that they must be convinced of the efficacy of this analysis before investing.

One possible method of improving visibility is the use of smart meter data. In areas where the rollout of these meters is more mature, it is possible to use the data generated to improve visibility of the wider network. However, there are often regulatory constraints on the granularity of the data which is accessible to utilities, making it impossible for analysis to be conducted to the required precision. More problematic of course is the fact that in many countries smart metering has yet to have even begun to be deployed, and the example of the UK shows how challenging it can be if not carefully managed.

For many operators, the solution to better visibility will come from the addition of DERMs functionality to their ADMS. These SCADA integrated systems are designed specifically for the control and management of distribute energy resources in line with the rest of the network. Given the importance of this integration, it is imperative that grid operators appraise a wide variety of these solutions in order to ensure their operational and business needs are met.

DER-SmartGrid Integration 2019 (London, 14-16 May) brings together 120+ experts for a case-study driven programme addressing the strategic, commercial, and technical challenges posed by the uptake of DERs. Please visit for more information.