RE Magazine

February 2013 

Running the Numbers 


CRN To Release New Smart Grid Cost-Benefit Analysis Tool 

Julie Wardley talks to CRN's Maurice Martin and David Pinney about Open Modeling Framework as part of the NRECA TechUpdate series.

Since emerging as a new concept not long ago, the so-called “smart grid” has quickly evolved to encompass an expansive array of data and operational measures designed to improve utility reliability, security, and efficiency. The benefits of implementing such technologies are well established, from improved data communication for more immediate diagnosis of outages to better integration of inventory and dispatch systems to support quicker response. Implementing smart grid measures is now not a question of whether, but which ones?

These wide-reaching, diverse technologies are revolutionary, but can leave many co-ops wondering which ones are right for them. As an added complication, these new systems come with little historical precedence to evaluate performance, and the value of each technology is highly dependent on specific co-op circumstances.

For instance, the effectiveness of voltage control components depends entirely on the configuration of the feeder on which they’re installed. To do a true cost-benefit analysis prior to purchase, engineers would need to simulate power flow on a feeder with and without the control added, and then monetize the results. And if they’re evaluating multiple technologies, or combinations of technologies, it would require many, many simulations.

But a new solution due out later this year from NRECA's Cooperative Research Network (CRN) could drastically change that dynamic, helping co-ops get the operational and budgeting answers they need about new smart grid systems while avoiding the time and expense of real-time testing.


Slide 2
The OMF produces detailed visualizations of technology impacts on financial and engineering performance.
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The OMF offers a rich set of tools for importing (from Milsoft, GridlabD) and editing digital representations of electrical distribution systems.

CRN’s Open Modeling Framework (OMF) is a web-based tool that will allow utilities to input grid specifications and receive a detailed analysis of the effects of adding certain components to their system. The software incorporates GridLAB-D, a state-of-the-art feeder simulator developed by Pacific Northwest National Lab. (Listen to the podcast at right.)

“Co-ops will have the ability to easily perform initial technology screening,” says Maurice Martin, CRN program manager. “We’ve added an improved user interface and data-management and reporting capabilities to GridLAB-D to make it simpler and less costly for co-ops to use.”

Co-ops can load data from Milsoft Utility Solutions’ Windmil software system into the OMF, or use a graphical feeder editor to build a model from scratch, or modify a model from a library of sample feeders. They can then add certain smart grid components – voltage controls, advanced meters, community solar, etc.— and specify what analyses should be run, including time intervals and duration. The OMF can present results under multiple weather scenarios by importing data for a co-op’s territory from the National Climatic Data Center.

Cloud Computing

Running an OMF analysis is a processor-intensive operation, and would take considerable time on an office workstation. Fortunately, OMF will run in a cloud environment, leveraging clusters of processors not normally available to co-ops. In addition, the results of past analyses will be stored online for reference and easy sharing among co-ops.

“From the ground up, the OMF philosophy has been, ‘What will be useful to the co-ops? How can we make the best evaluation tools accessible and usable?’” notes David Pinney, CRN’s senior software engineer for OMF. “With this system, you can see the engineering data— Are voltages staying within acceptable limits? –and the financial data—What were my capacity savings? What were my energy savings?”

Smart Grid Project Offshoot

CRN began work on the OMF as an offshoot of the ongoing Smart Grid Regional Demonstration. Craig Miller, CRN’s technical liaison and consultant to NRECA, identified the need for OMF, envisioned its potential impact, and created the structure of the modeling framework. The OMF quickly attracted interest well beyond the demonstration. Already, three national laboratories have signed on to help with development—Oak Ridge National Lab will help with OMF’s visualization components; Pacific Northwest National Lab will work on algorithms; and National Energy Technology Laboratory will work on reference data inputs.

Conservation Voltage Reduction (CVR) will be the first smart grid technology ready for testing on OMF. Modules for other technology, including energy storage, distributed generation, and smart feeder switching, will follow. OMF will be available for use by all co-ops and will form the basis for research reports coming out of CRN’s Smart Grid Regional Demonstration.

Look for updates on OMF in CRN’s email newsletter and in the CRN area of CRN will also be demonstrating OMF for members at this year’s TechAdvantage conference in February.

“We are excited for co-ops to start using this tool when it is available mid-year,” said Martin. “We believe it will be very valuable in helping them define their path to system modernization and cyber security.”

For more information on OMF, contact Maurice Martin, CRN Program Manager: