It's a foregone conclusion in the industry these days: Everything comes down to the availability of the right tools and the right data, preferably in real-time.

And we're getting closer and closer every day to enabling exactly that.

Back in October, Dr. Lawrence Jones, vice president of regulatory affairs, policy and industrial relations for Alstom Grid, hosted a series of webcasts presenting preliminary findings from a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) study in which he served as the project's principal researcher. Just before Christmas, the U.S. Department of Energy released the full report, "Strategies and Decision Support Systems for Integrating Variable Energy Resources in Control Centers for Reliable Grid Operations: Best Practices, Examples of Excellence and Lessons Learned." It can be downloaded in full here.

The 222-page report, the product of an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act cost-shared funding and research partnership of the U.S. DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and Alstom Grid Inc. and Areva Federal Services, assembled input from 33 grid operators in 18 countries who together account for more than 72 percent of all wind generation capacity installed worldwide. Operators were surveyed on wind integration, their operating policies, best practices, examples of excellence, lessons learned and decision support tools now in place. (Site visits were also made, where possible.)

The power systems represented in the report have different network topologies, mix generation and load profiles, and a range of wind generation penetration levels. They are located in various geographies with diverse weather regimes around the world, and many of the utilities surveyed operate under dissimilar regulatory frameworks, and in regulated or deregulated electricity markets.

Within the research, special emphasis was placed on how these utilities incorporate wind forecast information into operating policies, strategies, processes and decision support tools which dispatchers use in the daily operations of electric power grids.

Of keen interest to me, and to electric utility operations personnel, is the clear identification and description within the report of nine current best-practice tools and decision support systems that grid operators in the U.S. and in Europe are using to integrate and manage wind energy (and, in some cases, solar energy, as well). More and more, we are seeing electric utilities large and small, IOUs, munis and cooperative utilities alike, open to the information, best practices, lessons learned, and success stories shared by their peers. Likewise, we're seeing this information being used within business plans and proposals as peer utilities use it to develop and deploy solutions specific to their own needs.

Both current and emerging best practices are discussed, and best practices are further separated into six different categories: tools, data, situational awareness, training, wind power forecasting and processes/procedures.

In reading through the hefty report, one of the findings I felt was key was the importance of tools that help operators maintain situational awareness in their control rooms as more wind generation is connected to the grid. "Focus is increasing on a new operating paradigm that is more predictive and proactive and less reactive. This is emerging in the control center as a result of greater variability and uncertainty in the power system," the report noted.

"Operational risk management will clearly require applications that allow operators to look ahead and assess the next system conditions before they occur. This ability to project into the future will certainly improve (situational awareness). Based on respondents' feedback, more wind power on the system is also expected to hasten the development of a third generation of control center applications, which are needed to support predictive and look-ahead operations."

First- and second-generation applications are already in play, and the report notes 13 different short-term recommendations, or "low-hanging fruit" utilities can implement now to successfully integrate wind energy within their control rooms, recommendations that are not dependent upon new regulatory or policy measures, additional research or other "catalyst activities."

(It also describes medium-term recommendations that will depend on new regulatory and public policy measures, or that require additional technology development and demonstration, as well as research activity recommendations, both basic and advanced.)

Technologists and technology manufacturers take note:

"Realizing a scenario of 20 percent wind energy by 2030 in the U.S. will be difficult if existing decision support tools in utility control centers do not evolve to meet the new challenges," the report indicated in a series of to-the-point conclusions. Another: "Efficiently integrating wind energy in power systems requires that forecast and uncertainty information be incorporated into real-time decision support systems and planning tools."

It's an excellent report, and a must-read for all in electric utility operations.

Kate Rowland
Editor-in-chief, Intelligent Utility magazine