Microsynchrophasors for Distribution Systems

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Historically, power flow ran in one direction on the grid: from generation to the end user. Now, and increasingly in the future, the power grid includes a variety of electricity generators throughout the distribution network, including rooftop solar and wind energy, along with other technologies such as electric vehicles and distributed storage. The incorporation of this new generation and local energy storage will cause power to flow in multiple directions along distribution lines. This can lead to issues of voltage maintenance at the customer level and reductions in system inertia leading to grid instability. New technologies are needed to monitor the resulting variation in power flow to better understand the state of the grid, particularly as it impacts the likelihood of power failures.

DRRC, in collaboration with UC Berkeley’s California Institute for Energy and Environment (CIEE), is studying the usefulness of microsynchrophasors (μPMUs) to monitor and measure critical parameters on the distribution systems such as voltage and phase angle at different locations, and correlate them in time via extremely precise GPS clocks. Because the phase angle difference at a given location provides information about the stability and direction of power flow, μPMUs provide real-time monitoring of network stability, sharpening demand response, and improving the integration of distributed, intermittent renewable energy (e.g. rooftop solar and wind energy, and other technologies such as electric vehicles and distributed storage). Data from a network of these ultra-high-precision devices, each coupled to a power-disturbance recorder, provides new capabilities to gauge and control power flow. By putting networks of µPMUs to work, researchers expect that reliability can improve by as much as 50%, creating cost reductions while enabling aggressive deployment of zero-carbon solar, wind, and other renewable energy.