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Southern Company: Microgrid

Southern Company: Microgrid

“We feel we could increase our capability to integrate more distributed energy resources in a way that supports grid operation using a real-time control platform and provide the ability to form microgrid sections of the system.”

Joe Schatz , Manager T&D Research Southern Company

Southern Company has invested billions of dollars to build and maintain a smarter, more robust transmission and distribution system. Even before the advent of Smart Grids, the utility has been using smart grid technologies to remotely monitor the grid, gather data regarding grid conditions, and isolate problems on the grid, enabling faster restoration of power. One strategy for enabling integration of Distributed Energy Resources (DER) into the distribution system involves the investigation and development of the microgrids concept, pushing distribution based DER operations out to within the distribution network.

A microgrid application will be developed as part of this project, which will differentiate itself by its ability to integrate with, and be coordinated by, Southern Company’s existing control systems, in particular its distribution automation systems. It will be a requirement of the application that it be capable of interacting with these systems to reduce outage times and therefore maximize the reliability of the system as a whole, while minimizing the duration of islanded operation.

In addition, when interconnected, the microgrid controller will be capable of managing constraints on the bulk power system through control of real and reactive power flow and integrating with existing control systems operated by Southern Company. The controller will also act as a channel to access components of the microgrid for use in demand response programs and other applicable ancillary services.

A primary focus of a microgrid is to continue to supply its energy needs while disconnected from the bulk power system. To do this most microgrids adopt an insular approach, not just in the sense that they form power islands but also in the sense that the reach of microgrid control systems does not extend beyond the boundaries of those power islands. Within this project, Smarter Grid Solutions will work in partnership with Southern Company to explore the capabilities of a microgrid controller beyond the boundary of the microgrid itself.

Smarter Grid Solutions has developed a number of real-time software applications which are hosted on its Active Network Management (ANM) platform to manage power system constraints and increase the utilization of the existing distribution grid. Although it has been utilized to operate electrical islands, to date this platform has yet to be deployed to facilitate a dedicated microgrid system. However, the platform’s many features surrounding distributed real-time autonomous control with inbuilt failsafe logic make it ideally suited for this purpose. Within this project Smarter Grid Solutions will work with Southern Company to develop a dedicated microgrid software application for its ANM platform.

This will involve going through the full product development lifecycle beginning with engaging Southern Company personnel and other stakeholders to elicit requirements.

By testing the microgrid application developed in this project at sites with different characteristics, it will promote the development of an application that fits with the qualities listed below, which are shared by all existing Smarter Grid Solutions applications:

Extensible: Once deployed it will be easy for additional devices or functionality to be added.

Scalable: The functionality will scale from small installations with only a few controllable devices to larger installations with potentially hundreds of devices.

Repeatable: The software application will not be site specific and will be transferable to other locations.

Creating an application with these qualities will accelerate the adoption of microgrids in other locations as it will provide a solution that is not of bespoke design and therefore adaptable to meet the requirements of communities across Southern Company’s territory.

The delivered ANM system will use our sgs core, sgs comms hub and sgs connect platform components in addition to a number of the features of our sgs applications suite to measure critical locations on the grid, calculate any required changes to distributed energy resource real and reactive power, and control transition to and from islanded operation. Taking advantage of federation of ANM control platforms, the solution will enable enterprise integration of multiple microgrids and push operations out to the grid edge. Taken together this will translate to effective utilization of DER, faster connection times, avoidance of investment in grid assets, and improved resiliency in the face of extreme events. 

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