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Our Insights

Investing in knowledge and sharing it builds our industry and adds value to projects

December 6, 2018

Randy Grass - POWER Engineers

By Randy Grass
POWER Engineers

If you’re a utility owner or operator, you understand the need to spend part of your budget on maintaining and upgrading equipment and machinery. It is one way you work to meet rising customer expectations for reliable, safe and cost-efficient energy.

In a similar way, POWER Engineers invests in maintaining and upgrading our knowledge to help our clients meet the most exacting demands. Learning is a contact sport and participating in industry conferences gives us access to outside expertise and knowledge as well as allowing us to gain new perspectives and insights. These interactions can validate our experience or challenge us with new ways of thinking.

Tapping into new ideas

Exploring new ideas is becoming more important to ensure the grid remains strong. The electric power industry is facing some of its largest challenges as the grid evolves to meet consumer demand for resiliency, reliability, safety and renewable energy.

More distributed energy resources (DERs) are being connected to the grid, displacing conventional generation. And instead of connecting to the transmission system, they’re connecting directly to the distribution system. As the shift from centralized power to more flexible generation and energy storage grows, so does the need for engineers who can fit all the pieces of this complex puzzle together.

There are many benefits to being part of CIGRE, but one of my favorites is the accessibility to technology and technology experts from around the world. Often, we are introducing new technology or new ways to solve problems to our customers in the United States and we can support those decisions with hard data from others who have already implemented it on the international level.

We’ve been proud to participate in the CIGRE Grid of the Future (GOTF) Symposium for the last several years. It’s an outstanding opportunity to gain in-depth technical information from our peers in the energy industry, academia and government to better support our clients as we move together into that uncertain future.

Of course, sharing information is a two-way street. Presenting at the GOTF Symposium is one of the ways we contribute knowledge to the industry, while also illustrating how our innovations can add value to our clients’ projects and success. Four of POWER’s experts presented at the most recent GOTF in Reston, Virginia, during the last week in October: Cameron Van Leuven, George Becker, Rob Schaerer and Jeff Pack. We also had three session moderators from POWER: Nikia Munson, Josh Snodgrass and Van Leuven.

DER and measuring hosting capacity

In a paper for the GOTF symposium, Van Leuven discussed a pilot project to analyze one software tool’s ability to calculate hosting capacity. The grid of the future challenges the way we integrate and model new devices and technologies. System planning studies now need to consider additional standards when addressing significant amounts of distributed energy resources, or DER, such as wind, solar and energy storage.

The amount of DER that can be connected to the grid before it brings down power quality or reliability is called the hosting capacity. Knowing the hosting capacity of a system will soon become an integral part of DER planning efforts for utilities, regulators and customers.

“POWER has been working with a number of our clients on hosting capacity issues, which are still relatively new in the industry,” Van Leuven says. “Presenting our findings gives utilities the chance to see a model hosting capacity analysis and understand better how they can incorporate such efforts into their distribution systems.”

GIS helps harden substations

In today’s insecure world, utilities are studying their resiliency to be more prepared for possible physical and criminal attacks on their systems. Utilities also are looking to make their infrastructure more resilient with respect to naturally occurring environmental threats. In a paper he presented for the GOTF symposium, Becker discussed the benefits of using gas-insulated switchgear for electrical substations to harden them against damage from various natural threats such as hurricanes and targeted human threats such as terrorism.

“POWER concentrates our paper topics and presentations on operational and design issues our clients face every day,” Becker says. “We want attendees to walk away with specific actions that they can implement now to improve their business. Grid resilience is on everyone’s mind and choosing gas-insulated switchgear is a versatile and effective way to increase or enhance the resiliency of a substation.”

Grounding is a part of practical and safe design

When it comes to modernizing substations, there’s a lot to think about from the transformer to the fence line and beyond. And we’re always thinking about it at POWER.

Schaerer presented a paper for the symposium reminding utilities that electrical system modifications resulting in increases of fault current require grounding designs to be reconsidered and often upgraded. Similarly, fence upgrades for physical security, or any other reason, to sites with inadequate grounding can pose significant challenges in constructing a practical and safe design.

“CIGRE is growing in importance in the United States,” Schaerer says. “I wanted to attend and present again because of the experience last year of seeing the variety of practical power delivery presentations and discussions.”

Schaerer noted that “CIGRE topics and papers are much more practical than a lot of the papers that get presented at some other conferences.”

Boundary protection is a key cybersecurity issue

Boundary protection remains the leading issue identified by the Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team. At the GOTF symposium’s Cybersecurity and Virtual Reality Session, Pack talked about what it takes to protect network boundaries for transmission facilities and why this can be hard to perform. He also covered the critical areas to check when assessing a boundary protection system, including firewall configuration, logical separation of network traffic by function and authentication.

Learning and sharing practical knowledge

POWER is a company of innovators. As our mission statement reads in part, “…we learn from our experience to create innovative solutions for fun, challenging and safe projects…” With more than 2,500 employees working on hundreds of projects that involve thousands of problems, someone somewhere is dreaming up an innovation.

By taking part in the CIGRE Grid of the Future Symposium, POWER Engineers plays a leading role in designing that grid of the future and in educating current and upcoming engineers on the issues they’ll face. As Jeff Pack says, “The CIGRE Grid of the Future Symposium is an important venue for us. It supports the development of the Next Generation Network (NGN), essentially the CIGRE young professionals’ organization, and the focus and content of the conference is very relevant for providing POWER good industry input to support our clients’ needs.”

Nikia Munson, a POWER engineer and NGN member says, “CIGRE’s NGN provides young professionals with networking opportunities with the industry’s top professionals in the field with the goal of building new, long-term business connections. The newly gained knowledge, experiences and business connections can be applied to projects, providing inspired solutions to POWER’s clients.”

The work that we can do at conferences such as GOTF, along with our peers, clients and academics in the energy field, is essential to the reliability and efficient operation of the future grid.

Become a member of CIGRE to get a discounted fee to attend next year’s Grid of the Future Symposium. We’d love to see you there next year!

About the Author:

Randy Grass is a Professional Engineer and Division Manager of POWER’s Power Delivery Project Management Team. In his 20 years at POWER, he has also been Division Manager of Power Delivery’s Engineering Team, and led the transmission lines group as business unit director. He works out of POWER’s St. Louis office. Get in touch with him via email at randy.grass@powereng.com.