Distributional intelligence: An interview with Steve Ehrlich of Space-Time Insight

Distributional intelligence: An interview with Steve Ehrlich of Space-Time Insight

Electricity distribution utilities are facing accelerating disruption with the increasing customer adoption of distributed energy resources such as residential and community solar, energy storage devices and electric vehicles. To thrive amid this disruption, utilities need more-effective approaches to maintain acceptable voltage levels, prevent transformer overloading, manage distributed generation and drive capital efficiency. In order to help utilities make the transition to an environment in which distributed energy resources are increasingly common, provider of situational intelligence solutions, Space-Time Insight, recentlyannounced the availability of version 2.0 of its Distribution Intelligence application. This solution provides on-demand visual analytics and network optimization at the grid edge. It can help utilities with demand reduction, optimisation of transformer loading and capacity utilisation and provision of insights into voltage and power quality issues.

REM talked to Space-Time Insight’s Senior Vice President of Products Steve Ehrlich to find out more

What is the major problem currently with distributed energy resources (DERs) with regard to disruption of electricity utilities?

DERs add two complications to distribution. One, they change distribution from a one-way flow of power into a dynamic, bi-directional environment. DERs such as rooftop solar power and large-scale batteries put energy back into the distribution network. Previously, service points only took energy off the network. Demand response, another DER, often involves bi-directional communication between the utility and the customer’s devices. Two, DERs increase volatility in the distribution network. While overall demand for energy has been close to flat in recent years, DERs move large amounts of energy on and off the distribution network, increasing volatility. That volatility is remaking the shape of the demand curve. For instance, solar power is turning high demand times into high generation times, while electric vehicle charging turns low-demand hours into prime charging time.

How can analytics technologies help to solve the problem?

Analytics provide the speed and insight to handle the dynamic, bi-directional nature of DERs in the distribution grid. There are too many variables changing too quickly for human operators to comprehend without the aid of analytics. Analytics pinpoint the what, where, when and why of volatility. Analytics forecast areas that can benefit from DERs and times when generation from DERs can contribute to meeting load. This type of insight helps in identifying and addressing voltage irregularities, which in turn postpones capital investments to address volatility.

Is this part of the transition to smart grid technology or is that something completely different?

Smart grid technology is a broad, somewhat vague term anymore, but this is another milestone in the evolution from a “dumb” one-way flow of power towards a dynamic, bi-directional environment made “smart” by sensors, communication networks and analytics.

What is Distribution Intelligence and what are its main benefits?

Distribution Intelligence is a software application that uses advanced analytics to help utilities optimize peak demand reduction on feeders with DER penetration, determine the potential of capital investment deferment for feeders, optimize transformer loading and capacity utilization, and gain insight into voltage and power quality issues down line from a substation. The application integrates with a wide variety of utility systems that are vital to ensuring distribution reliability. 

How long has this been available and what advantages does version 2 have over its predecessor?

We just announced version 2 in February 2016. This version is an off-the-shelf application that provides key benefits in integrating DERs into the distribution grid. Previous versions were customer-specific solutions that we developed in collaboration with utilities to understand the problems related to DERs and validate what has become Distribution Intelligence version 2.

How many utilities are using this system presently and how do you expect its use to grow in the future?

We are working with utilities in North America and Australia to roll out Distribution Intelligence. We expect Distribution Intelligence to spread as DERs continue to proliferate across distribution grids. DERs exemplify innovation in energy, and that innovation shows no signs of slowing down. Utilities will increasingly need the speed and power of analytics to cope with DER integration into their distribution networks. The speed and complexity of the dynamic, bi-directional distribution grid is and will continue to be too much for people to analyze using simple dashboards and BI tools.

What advantages does this system have over competing analytics technologies?

Distribution Intelligence uses Space-Time Insight’s patented situational intelligence technology, which analyzes the spatial, temporal and network relationships of events and assets simultaneously.  Only situational intelligence offers this analytic capability, which is ideally suited to solving complex network problems such as integrating DERs into distribution operations and planning.

Space-Time Insight, based in San Mateo, California, assists companies in asset-intensive industries by providing the context and clarity they need to make fast, confident decisions. Using spatial, temporal and nodal analysis, the company’s Internet-of-Things (IoT) - ready real-time visual analytics applications provide information on the what, where, when, why and how of every asset and situation. Space-Time Insight’s award-winning situational intelligence software powers mission-critical systems for some of the largest companies around the world, including eight of the twenty largest US utilities.

For additional information:

Space-Time Insight

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