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Technologies That Enable a Distribution Management System

Utility providers and related businesses use Distribution Management System (DMS) resources for several purposes related to tackling the delivery of energy to customers, as well as for other aspects of daily and long-term operations. But what falls under one of these important enterprise software umbrellas?

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Below are some of the major components that support Distribution Management Systems for utilities. These components allow companies to provide energy to communities more safely and efficiently while working on tasks like service restoration.

SCADA Tools

Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition systems, also known as SCADA systems, are part of unified Distribution Management Systems. SCADA systems incorporate tools that work at a network’s control layer, such as Programmable Logic Controllers, in order to handle the hardware that manages physical energy delivery and operational processes. Many of these tools are connected to a graphical user interface for top-level management. In a sense, SCADA is the “nuts and bolts” way to reach in and control hardware elements that, in turn, control mechanical elements from a remote location. It’s a combination of digital control systems and practical infrastructure, and as a result, it’s a major pillar of DMS design.

Energy Management System

An Energy Management System, or EMS, is a related aspect of a Distribution Management System or smart grid system that’s often connected with SCADA management. The EMS is a suite of digital tools that measure electrical loads, monitor overall delivery, and control performance in ways that are useful to the utility provider. Many of these benchmarking tools provide recording features for the delivery of energy to residential and commercial locations. Metering and other measurements are also part of these overall tools.

Outage Management Systems

An Outage Management System is a digital system that observes energy delivery processes to project outages, mitigate existing outages, provide damage control and calculate recovery and restoration times, while also managing various aspects of workflow for utility workers.

Some Outage Management Systems also provide predictive information about how transformers, fuses and other parts of an electrical system may perform under pressure – for example, in a storm or related event, an Outage Management System may be able to highlight major risk areas, making workers more efficient in the field. All of the data acquisition brought by an Outage Management System is critical to the business intelligence that allows utilities to be more agile in confronting challenges.

Many of these Outage Management Systems are tied to a central user interface that provides public-facing information to customers. When an OMS can be used to predict recovery times, or show the extent for seriousness of an outage, that information often gets relayed directly to customers in their smartphones and other mobile devices, or through a desktop or laptop computer. Connecting the field-level controls and monitoring tools to these central user interfaces is a major part of how utilities have modernized with Distribution Management Systems, and one of the most important applications of these DMS systems.

GIS Tools

Part of what facilitates an Outage Management System is a set of Geographic Information System, or GIS, tools. Geographic tagging can help utility companies keep track of vehicles, equipment and assets. It can also provide a better map or topology of a utility territory to show where performance is best, where risks are greatest, etc. GIS tools are a major part of mapping out the business intelligence that a company’s data from the overall DMS interface. They are somewhat of a physical supply chain for a system that thrives on remote monitoring, on compiling diverse information from many different physical locations, and bringing it together to drive decision-making with a real-time network.

Load Flow Tools

Load flow analysis tools look at watts and voltages at particular points, as well as current levels within a system. They can help detect or predict overloads, spikes or other conditions that can compromise electrical systems. Load flow tools can also contribute to better system efficiency. In addition, they can be tied into the overall graphical interfaces mentioned above.

Demand Response Tools

One aspect of all of the above technologies is supporting the goal of anticipating customer demand. Demand response tools work practically to look at where there’s a demand for electricity from a local grid. Again, this type of analysis makes delivery more efficient, and helps the system withstand higher demand levels overall.

Voltage Control and Optimization Tools

Other kinds of analytical tools look at voltage levels to ensure universal results throughout a system. Because electrical systems often have dynamic voltages at different points, these types of digital tools are also a key part of distribution management systems for utilities.

Overall Integration

As mentioned above, many of these practical tools need to be mated with an overall communications platform. A website may be linked to a phone center with interactive voice response or other means of contacting and communicating with customers and other stakeholders. It could also be linked to order management and billing tools. The more a utility DMS system is integrated, the better it functions and the more capabilities it adds.

Other types of tools may also be built into a Distribution Management System – for instance, security tools help prevent unauthorized access, and real-time data management tools help port the flow of data quickly to stakeholders. All of this is part of what makes a Distribution Management System such a vital resource for modern utility companies that manage fundamentally different types of energy, from coal and oil to solar and wind. Software like this adds capability and visibility to complex operations – which is why utilities need it on their side.

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