The Flex Controller: An Introduction to Distributed Control Architecture

March 30, 2020 0 Comments
The Flex Controller:  An Introduction to Distributed Control Architecture

By Matt Knott, JD Energy division of JD Technologies, LLC

The global utility landscape is undergoing a fundamental shift. Distributed renewable generation continues its growth becoming a larger portion of the energy equation, while customer consumption patterns adjust based on the increased adoption of electric vehicles, IoT devices, smart homes, and more. This ecosystem creates a new network model that cultivates a more dynamic and transactional relationship between the utility and its customers in optimizing both power delivery and energy management. Data is also increasing not only in volume, but in velocity and complexity and are presenting new opportunities to transform – delivering greater value, faster.

Thriving amidst this transformation involves rethinking the current construct of central command and control system-centric architectures. On the foundation of digital innovations, utilities are in position with new tools to redefine operations today for the connected, sustainable future.

If you think back to the evolution of the cell phone market, establishing a common operating system that connected hardware and the “world of apps” was a prerequisite for the age of the “smartphone”. Today, this smartphone with the ability to deliver any desired applications directly to your pocket, has changed the world and opened up a completely new universe of opportunity, innovation, and economic development. A similar model connecting devices that monitor and control the generation, delivery and consumption of power with diverse, value-driven applications has emerged, enabling a fundamental architecture shift in the way that utilities, transmission operators, customers, and third parties can interact with the electric power grid.

With distributed assets, including electric vehicles, energy storage, and solar inverters among others, experiencing significant growth and directly impacting grid performance, the challenge of making the right decisions at the right time to meet the variety of stakeholder interests becomes more and more complex. The answer? A common bridge based on distributed control supporting energy-specific software services between that physical world at the plant, substation, or throughout the grid and the world of “apps” available today and in the future will simplify integration and unlock the profound power of today’s digital world. This brings forth a new era of resilience, efficiency, control and overall optimization of the comprehensive energy value chain. Enabling this distributed model will propel the energy industry from an industrial revolution “electro mechanical” paradigm to a truly scalable “digital world”.

Bringing this architectural concept to life is the Elpis Squared (Elpis) Flex ControllerTM. Connecting the digital energy world as a flexible, intelligent communication and computing platform, Flex Controllers provide a unified gateway to manage power in a distributed model unlocking scalability necessary to realize the full potential applications ranging from DER visibility to overall capacity optimization. Providing local coordination and control, support for data logging, networking, and flexible upstream communications, its versatile computing platform allows stakeholders from different organizations to configure customizable features and functionalities based on business and technical needs.

To provide one example of how utilities are leveraging the Flex Controller in the field today, attached is a short case study featuring on-line substation circuit breaker monitoring. This highlights the Flex Controller’s key role in the rapid evolution of reactive, resource intensive breaker monitoring into instantaneous, intelligent insights on the health of these critical assets. The image below supplements the case study by showing where the Flex Controller fits and how it is collecting and transmitting the information from substation circuit breakers:

The Flex Controller does more than remote data pass through. As highlighted above, utilities can add another layer beyond connecting to a central repository. The ability to locally normalize the data and provide real-time analytics based on the Elpis ReGrid machine-learning software platform adds significant value through automated, accurate decision-making without sacrificing network bandwidth or latency.

Modernizing the distribution grid involves more than just replacing old assets with new versions of the same equipment. Today, successfully addressing the business challenges and meeting the regulatory goals require utilities to transform existing distribution systems into flexible, agile and resilient power delivery platforms. The Flex Controller is a key tool for utilities adapting the traditional top-down, siloed, centralized architecture into a more distributed future – effectively accommodating bidirectional and variable power flow, optimizing overall asset performance and delivering the satisfaction demanded by today’s more informed and proactive customers.

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