I don't know about you, but I've been clicking through links with hashtags like #sblights and #superbowloutage ad nauseum for the past two days and feel no wiser for the wear. I do know that Sunday’s Super Bowl blackout stemmed from the onsite facilities. And while finger-pointing abounds, ranging from the local utility, Entergy, to facility managers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, and even to the NFL itself, the exact cause of the abnormality may not matter as much as identifying ways to prevent future outages, whether the outage was caused by the HVAC system, Beyonce’s performance, or simply too many cell phones being plugged in at once.

Application of several key smart grid technologies could have prevented the Super Bowl blackout, but the high-profile failure could -- and hopefully will -- prompt facility managers to rethink the way they approach their energy infrastructure on both sides of the supply-and-demand equation.

The identification of an electrical “abnormality…opened a breaker,” according to Entergy and SMG, partially cutting power to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana on Sunday night. In the months prior to Sunday’s big game, the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (LSED) took to hardening the infrastructure around the stadium -- authorizing $2.16 million in spending to create redundant feeder connections from Entergy’s distribution grid to the stadium. This investment did not increase the capacity of local equipment or enhance the load control available to stadium operators. Instead, it hardened the dome against utility-side outages.

GTM Research can see four paths to mitigating customer-side overloading and abnormalities. Although there is no cost-effective way to foolproof any system, these investment scenarios provide the support to enhance flexibility and avoid critical outages.

1) Capacity, Capacity, Capacity

Increasing the capacity of conductors and equipment has been the go-to strategy for utilities and commercial and industrial facilities for more than a century. However, resizing assets can be comparatively expensive and unnecessary. Like many utilities today, the Superdome in New Orleans has options on both sides of the supply-and-demand equation.

We do know that the electrical equipment at the dome is creating the data necessary to facilitate improved decision-making. Utilization of this data, though, is key, as Superdome operators, like many utilities, traditionally island the vast majority of this data, pulling only a fraction of it back through SCADA systems. Additional data acquisition capabilities can enable technologies that will enhance the resiliency of the premises.

There are three smart grid scenarios that could prevent or mitigate an outage at critical customer premises such as the Superdome, data centers, or hospitals:

2) BEMS, DERMS, and Microgrids

If the problem resides with lack of management capabilities and visibility into local loads and available local supply, software applications can provide needed relief. These include building energy management systems (BEMS), more advanced local distributed energy resource management systems (DERMS) with granular understandings of individual equipment load profiles, or micro-grid platforms with or without accompanying islanding hardware. Increased visibility into facility electrical consumption and localized supply can enable operators to optimize the flow of power into and out of their jurisdiction, as well as to shed load when required. (More information is available on analytics platforms from GTM Research’s recent report, The Soft Grid 2013-2020: Big Data & Utility Analytics for Smart Grid.)

3) Optimizing Asset Use

If the “abnormality” mentioned was the result of a surge, as some have speculated, better monitoring technologies for critical assets such as transformers and circuit breakers could expand the allowable operating conditions during a particular event. Increased sensor density and available data management, processing, and diagnostic tools such as a scaled-down hosted solution from ABB, Doble/S&C Electric Co., Qualitrol, and Siemens can provide facility managers with an improved understanding of instantaneous operational limits of various equipment and optimize settings based on current conditions (such as keeping the lights on at least until the end of a drive) and/or long-term goals. (More information is available on analytics platforms from GTM Research’s upcoming report, Transformer Monitoring Markets, 2013-2020: Technologies, Forecasts, and Leading Vendors.)

4) Installation of Power Quality Equipment

If power quality issues caused the trip, the solution could include advanced control technologies that address power quality, as well as capacity concerns at various price ranges. Local filters, capacitor banks, and regulators can provide power quality support to prevent negative effects on power equipment. Local community energy storage such as S&C Electric Co.’s offering can mitigate power quality changes, act as an additional power source, and reduce stress on upstream devices. Additionally, new grid equipment from vendors such as Gridco Systems, Varentec and Petra Solar can mitigate negative power quality, provide reactive power support, and enable distributed closed-loop conservation voltage reduction (CVR) to reduce power consumption at the source.

A cocktail of these technologies, coupled with traditional methods of hardening the system (e.g., larger capacity equipment, diligent vegetation management, and re-conductoring), will continue to make the grid and customer premise power delivery more reliable. For critical facilities such as data centers, hospitals, police stations, and sports stadiums, these technologies will continue to grow in importance to support backup generation, uninterruptible power supply systems, and other hardening efforts.

Tags: blackout, data analytics, outage, smart gird, super bowl, transformers