Austin Energy: Customization Out, Integration In for Grid Systems

on March 20, 2013 at 12:40 PM

When Austin Energy put out a request for proposal for a new advanced distribution management system (ADMS) in early 2012, the Texas utility compiled more than 4,200 requirements that the vendor would have meet to win the contract.

The project will involve a combined outage management and distribution management system and also a SCADA system specifically for the distribution system, something that Austin did not already have.

“We wanted a single source of truth,” said David Wood, VP of electric service delivery at Austin Energy. “We wanted a single backend system as a data source, but we also wanted to minimize the amount of screens the operators have to look at.”

It was Telvent, now owned by Schneider Electric, that met the needs of Austin Energy, including everything from how the data is turned into useful information to the optimal size of the keyboards. The system has been designed and is currently being built; it is expected to be installed at the end of this year. The contract, which includes four years of maintenance, is for about $4.8 million.

Like other utilities, Austin is looking for its advanced system to allow for applications like conservation voltage reduction and fault location isolation and service restoration (FLISR). But unlike other utilities, or even its own history, for this project Austin Energy avoided customization. “That was one of the reasons we went with Schneider,” said Wood. “We felt it had the broadest range of features.” He added that the move toward more careful configuration, but less customization, had been an evolution.

In the late 1990s, an ambitious software deployment meant that nearly every time an update was needed, it was like building a whole new system. “It was just eating our lunch every time we tried to upgrade the legacy system,” he said.

To move away from that, the new system will have as little customization as possible, and for any applications that are customized, Austin Energy would like for the feature to become part of Telvent’s standard offering.

For Austin Energy, which already has a relatively strong record in reliability (58 minutes for SAIDI), the challenge will be wringing more efficiency from new peak reduction programs that will be enabled by the new system. Austin also already has an ambitious smart grid pilot project with the Pecan Street Project. The municipal utility has had a meter data management program from Ecologic Analytics (now owned by Landis+Gyr) for a few years, but it isn’t turning it on and integrating the meter system with the OMS until the entire ADMS comes on-line.

As with other utilities that are deploying state-of-the-art OMS, Austin Energy expects that its reliability numbers will actually get worse in the short term. Currently, an outage doesn’t start until a customer calls the utility, but with smart meters, the outage will start when a meter gives off its last-gasp alert. San Diego Gas & Electric has already found that its new OMS is catching outages about twelve minutes before the first customer calls to report it.

By integrating the DMS and OMS into one system, Austin Energy expects to expedite restoration times and create more visibility for its operators. It also wants the OMS to have the reliability of the transmission SCADA system: 99.98 percent. “We really want to only have to maintain and support one backend system,” he added.

The backend systems aren’t the only things getting an upgrade in Austin. The utility also just installed a video wall in its control room that will go live in a few weeks, the largest of any North American utility, according to Wood.

Author credit for this piece goes to Katherine Tweed.