How Sacramento’s electric utility powered up smart-grid data

December 16, 2013

How Sacramento’s electric utility powered up smart-grid data

In 2009 the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), the nation’s sixth largest community-owned electric utility, began a $350 million upgrade of its power distribution system to introduce smart-grid technology from transmission lines to customer meters.

A new Distribution Control Center was opened, a wireless mesh network to support automated metering was built out, more than 600,000 smart meters were installed and an advanced operating system was implemented to support new supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) equipment in substations and lines. The improved efficiency and reliability of the system is expected to save from $8 million to $15 million annually in power-supply costs and produce a return on investment in about seven years.

But the utility found that it takes more than automated equipment to make a power grid smart. By 2011 SMUD personnel realized they needed a way to analyze the data being produced and to understand the impact of the new technology being deployed, said Michael Greenhalgh, SMUD’s smart grid project director.

“In the back of our minds, we knew it was coming,” Greenhalgh said of the need to correlate additional data. Sensors in the automated system monitor from three to 10 variables at each point, from transformers to customer meters, and the number of points in the system being monitored quadrupled to about 7.5 million. The utility launched a Situational Awareness and Visual Intelligence program to help make sense of the new grid.

Making sense of the data

“The problem is not that they don’t have the information,” said Steve Ehrlich, a senior vice president at Space-Time Insight, which provides situational awareness tools. “The problem is that they didn’t have any way to use it.”

The company’s Situational Intelligence Server (SI Server) was installed in SMUD’s new control center to correlate data from disparate sources that included technical operational systems, business systems and outside sources such as weather information. It uses geospatial and visual analytics software to produce charts, graphs and reports.

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