Data transfer concept

Five steps to future-proof the grid

Assessing operational practices and technologies can help utilities find success in a future powered by data.

In brief

  • The localization of some distribution networks demands complex management and data collection processes from utilities.
  • An integrated supervisory and data acquisition solution gathers all data and operations into one graphic interface. 
  • Getting corporate leadership to support assessing, overhauling or installing new advanced data collection and distribution management systems has benefits.

This article was written by Sadeem Bukhari, Manager, Power and Utilities | Digital Grid

There’s a good reason expressions like tectonic shift are still around millennia after the events that inspired them. Sometimes the scale, pace and likely impact of impending change in a landscape are so significant that the language used to describe them stays with us. 

That’s perhaps an overly dramatic visual for what’s happening to the energy sector and the role of utilities within it, but change is coming, and it will require very real and equally rapid evolution – from business strategies to daily operating practices, as well as the data required to drive both. 

It’s no news to anyone in the energy sector that the century-year-old grid, already challenged, can’t cope with everything that is being, and about to be, asked of it: the surge in both consumer and commercial electrical demand, the coming electrification of transportation and the rapid shift from fossil-based fuel power. 

Add to this the federally mandated integration of more distributed energy resources (DERs) that is set to decentralize distribution networks and we have a landscape shift that requires its own dramatic language – if not call to action. As we brace for change, let’s also prepare for it with leading operational practices and technologies to meet the coming data-driven future. All of this starts with standardization.

Understand the landscape change 

In September of 2020, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission mandated Regional Transmission Organizations (RTOs) and Independent System Operators (ISOs) to enable more DER involvement in the power grid as a component of the building of a smart grid for the future. Essentially, the localization of some distribution networks at the local and community levels, sourced close to where it’s consumed, could mean lower energy rates for those consumers who own DER assets like solar panels and electric, but that localization will also require more complex management and data collection processes from utilities. 

And the increase in DER volume is just one part of an overall expansion of feeders and in-field devices that is making the grid increasingly diverse and more complicated to manage on a daily basis. It’s now essential that utilities examine their network models and prepare processes and tools for the complexities to come. Failing to do so will mean power may struggle to control the increasing diversification of devices and integration of DERs, setting back grid progress exponentially.

Determine how ADMS and SCADA can help manage that change

Like many industries, energy distribution networks are rapidly moving to the necessities of a data-driven future where the data collected across the local grid and throughout utility infrastructures is quickly becoming integral to critical system decision-making and management. Best practices to manage day-to-day operations, as well as outages and other events, now really requires foundational investment in an Advanced Distribution Management System (ADMS) –– a single software platform solution that optimizes the performance of the distribution grid as well as automates restoration during outages.

Both outage management (OMS) and distribution management (DMS) are combined with an integrated supervisory and data acquisition solution (SCADA) that together visualizes all data and operations into one easy graphic interface for utilities users.

Transition to this management model as the grid continues to evolve and decentralize will provide 24/7 monitoring, which is essential in an evolving landscape. Other benefits include cross-network visibility to operations, events and the ability to identify risk; the efficient and seamless collection of data to make more informed decisions around business strategies, operations and required investments; and both the replacement and ongoing maintenance of critical equipment.

Determine the criticality of SCADA?

With the addition of DERs and the large volume of utility device installations required in the field, network optimization will become essential to future operations. A SCADA-driven, data-led approach will help answer questions central to that operational success: how to manage, monitor and analyze data collection from the large volume of device installations in the field; how to plan ahead and avoid things like last-minute device commissioning, which causes device delays in the field, and a cascading set of problems from lack of predictability and transparency to increased operational and management costs.

Confirm your data is standardized in SCADA

You can’t enact what you can’t see. SCADA may be the answer to operational efficiencies in a changing industry, but it requires the accurate collection of reliable, consistent and high-quality data that can only come through standardization. As you review your data collection and analysis protocols, ensure you’re using standard terms and values across the entire distribution network and in every region. This will create the foundations that lead to standardized practices in collation and analysis and, ultimately, to standardized practices and better performance.

Standardization is far more than leading data management practices too. Using this kind of systemized, data-driven approach will impact and improve network connectivity, guide the efficient and effective installation of devices in the field, and help minimize errors. The consequences of not operating in this way are numerous and will hamstring your operations and success. This includes things like delayed device installations, missed deadlines, a lack of critical compliance and incorrect settings for future measurements.

Employ SCADA to drive ADMS consistency 

SCADA isn’t simply a tool for data collection. It’s an ecosystem of standardized data, processes and protocols that, together, govern every step of data collection and enable utilities to build an effective ADMS. For optimal efficiencies, look to employ SCADA across every leg of your process:

  • Project initiation – effectively manage assets and advanced authorization
  • Planning and project management – create efficient project management kickoff, scope definition and permit requirements 
  • Design reviews – streamline and systemize critical reviews on concepts for device construction 
  • Construction management – efficiently manage the construction process from commissioning to partner coordination and punch list monitoring
  • Project close-out – manage final installation and successful go-live date

Align for the smart grid future 

Can you continue to operate your distribution network without refining your ADMS and employing SCADA? Yes, of course. But the coming scale of change across the industry really requires optimal efficiencies and data-driven management on a new level. Getting the buy-in from corporate leadership to assess, overhaul or install new advanced data collection and distribution management systems will pay off in many ways: better visibility across your entire network to spot problems ahead of time and lower costs to repair retroactively; data-driven improvements to long-range operational planning; and the ability to forecast and balance demand versus resource availability.

There may be a massive, tectonic-plate-like shift coming in the industry, bringing all kinds of challenges, but with data-driven operations and practices guiding your distribution management, you’ll be better positioned to avoid the pitfalls.


The scale of change across the energy sector necessitates an elevated approach to data-driven management.

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