In 2021, when low-voltage management was slowly emerging as a focus for utilities, Itron, Inc. teamed up with Zpryme to map the low voltage landscape  (read the full report here). The study revealed what was driving the 100 utilities we surveyed to invest in low-voltage management solutions (LVMS). The survey also revealed how utilities were leveraging their Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) data to extract the full value of those investments beyond meter-to-cash. Read more about the value of low-voltage network management in this recent article, which delves deeper into the value of these emerging solutions and their ability to provide a new level of visibility and situational awareness across the grid.

With EVs and distributed energy resources now proliferating the low-voltage grid, granular visibility and control will become critical to maintain grid reliability. We took our research to DISTRIBUTECH® International 2023 to get a pulse check on our 2-year-old findings. With a record 17,000 utility professionals in attendance, the event was ideal to compare our research and check out where the industry is headed next.

Study co-sponsor Itron prominently featured one of the newest technologies in LVMS –distributed intelligence applications on meters and other edge devices that are capable of processing wave forms. This allows the transmission of sub-second interval data (as opposed to industry-standard five-minute interval data). By using machine learning to understand more granular and real-time patterns from historical data, the meter can send out signals to targeted devices precisely where the voltage incident is occurring. This targeted communication avoids the need to send massive amounts of extraneous data back and forth to the control room. This real-time decision making saves the utility time and streamlines operations significantly.

This efficiency augments another exciting low-voltage network management technology: the ability to detect several contingencies and deploy multiple renewable energy sources simultaneously in response to event triggers such as an obstruction caused by vegetation, a downed pole or other event. The technology also enables a controller to create a day-ahead forecasting schedule for deployment at 10-15 minute intervals while operating as a pre-defined, tested, and validated function block. These innovations save utility resources on data storage and management while improving field work safety and operational efficiency.

More low-voltage management trends we saw at DISTRIBUTECH:

  • DER adoption is increasing.
  • IT/OT convergence has become more important in low-voltage management solutions.
  • The evolution of the technology to performance-based and as-a-service applications.
  • Utilities are shifting to more in-house data analysis.
  • More utilities are including meteorologists on their teams.
  • Data accuracy is improving.
  • Fieldwork safety concerns are on the rise.
  • Load management, battery programs, EV programs, thermostat programs, and load orchestration are still popular implementations of low-voltage management.

Some of the top challenges utilities say they’re facing:

  • How to manage the additional EV charging load on the grid.
  • Rising energy and operational costs.
  • Growing concern over climate change.
  • Push to reduce carbon emissions, reach net zero.
  • Defining and measuring reliability and resiliency,
  • Shifting utility mindset. It is sometimes difficult to get utilities onboard with new technologies and long-term planning. However, more utilities are gradually embracing change within the past two years.
  • Slow legislation.
  • Integrating cloud-based solutions to the operation network is challenging.
  • Cybersecurity is a big concern. LVMS are cloud-based solutions and not everyone is on board to use cloud computing for cybersecurity concerns.

Speaking with experts on the exhibit floor, many of the trends and challenges are consistent with the survey results from our previous research, particularly the challenges facing utilities when it comes to implementing low-voltage management solutions (see graph below). However, change is rapidly happening, and the technology is continuously improving. A quantitative evaluation of the latest shifts in the industry within the last two years is imperative.

Stay tuned as Zpryme and Itron team up again this year to release an updated low-voltage landscape report and see how utilities investments have shifted over the past two years and what lies ahead.

For more information on low-voltage management solutions and to access the full report, visit Itron.