Much of the discussion around smart cities centers around smart buildings and the proliferation of smart meters (i.e., advanced metering infrastructure). Also discussed is the growing importance of distributed energy resources (DER) and the multitude of smart devices that make up the Internet of Things (IoT). However, the criticality of the electric transmission and distribution (T&D) grid that powers the smart city or smart community is rarely or only casually mentioned. Regardless, many T&D technologies and features will likely be critical to the smart city of the future.

Generation: The shift from local coal or nuclear generators supplying urban population centers to remote utility-scale wind and solar generation resources is rapidly occurring and can be seen across North America and Europe. Large-scale wind and solar generation farms are becoming an increasing portion of the generation mix. Electric power must be transferred from these remote sites to urban populations over hundreds (if not thousands) of miles of new high-voltage transmission lines using high-voltage direct current (HVDC) and extra high-voltage alternating current (HVAC) transformers and converter stations.

Transmission grid technologies: In turn, these lines require new approaches to monitoring and control necessary to maintain voltage levels and synchronize the three-phase power delivery at each substation along the way. Relatively new phasor measurement units (PMUs) and digital protective relays collect voltage, current, and power factor information up to 60 times per second, time stamping it for comparison purposes. Synchrophasor analytics make real-time comparisons of status at each end of the transmission lines, warn operators, and automatically correct voltage or power factor when readings diverge from optimal operating conditions. These high-speed incidents go largely unnoticed with traditional SCADA monitoring and control and can sometimes create major reliability incidents.

Distribution substations: The digital substation will also be a critical part of the new smart city. As every device in the substation is upgraded to have digital communications and control, substations will be ringed with high-speed fiber optic networks. These networks connect the various devices, including transformers, switchgear, protective relays, and other intelligent electronic devices. This sets the stage for the virtual substation, where every piece of equipment is modeled, operating data is shared, and system operations are monitored, controlled, and automated at the local and centralized operations centers.

Distribution feeders and low-voltage (LV) distribution transformers: Distribution feeders connect the substation with customers in both urban and rural locations. Urban distribution feeder systems are complex meshed networks, with fleets of disconnect switches, reclosers, and other devices that allow the network to be reconfigured and continually operated when isolated system faults occur. These intelligent electronic devices increasingly include local and autonomous decision-making and control capabilities. They communicate with adjacent devices and reconfigure the network or managing voltage and power factor without control by the substation or central operations center.

There are also millions of LV distribution transformers that operate at the edge of the grid, stepping down voltage for delivery to the customer. These transformers have traditionally been mechanical/electrical devices with no monitoring capabilities, but are now being gradually replaced with smart transformers that measure and report critical operating condition information. Sophisticated transformers may provide control and automation capabilities, which are becoming increasingly critical for managing the distribution grid as DER penetration increases. Retrofit monitoring and control devices are also now available and can be installed close to problematic or overloaded transformers.

Navigant Research recently released my global market study and forecast for substation and distribution automation and maintains an extensive library of subscription reports on smart cities, microgrids, and transmission and distribution technologies.  They can be found at

Smart Cities and the Smart T&D Electric Grid is my final blog published by Navigant Research. Mt future blogs published on IntelligentNRG will focus on emerging smart grid technologies and IT systems, as well as drones, UAVs, robotics, physical security, and IoT.

Both physical and cyber security threats to the electric utility transmission and distribution (T&D) grid in all regions of the world are real. Part 1 of this blog series discussed the physical security problem and some of the measures North American utilities are taking to respond to the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) CIP-14 requirements. Regardless of whether replacement high-voltage transformers, switchgear, and breakers need to be ordered from major vendors such as ABB, General Electric (GE), Siemens, or other regional companies, replacement equipment is not warehoused. Instead, it must be special ordered, manufactured, and shipped to the transmission substation where the replacement will be made.

Manufacturing lead times are typically 12 to 18 months, which is an issue the North American transmission system operators are dealing with by participating in Grid Assurance, banding together to create stockpiles of critical equipment in multiple locations across the nation. And while Grid Assurance will own and provide timely access to an inventory of emergency spare transmission equipment, the regional or national shipping and transportation issues are daunting.

Issues of Size

The sheer size of 250 kV to 750 kV high-voltage transformers makes physical transportation a logistical nightmare, regardless of whether large-scale trucks or railroad transportation is used. Companies such as ABB and Siemens have highly specialized trucks and flatbed rail cars dedicated to high-voltage transformer transportation. A huge flatbed truck designed to transport from 100 tons to 500 tons of high-voltage transformers can be seen below. These trucks need to be routed over roads that are certified for heavy loads and often have circuitous routes because of height and width clearance issues.

Transformer Shipping Using Lowboy Flatbed Truck

big truck jpeg

(Source: ABB)

However, the largest 500 kV and 750 kV extra high-voltage transformers may require specialized rail transport with similar clearance issues, bridge weight restrictions, and even access close to the transmission substation. Shipping and transportation from regional sites, vendor manufacturing centers, or overseas shipping yards may take weeks or even months, again lengthening the restoration timeframe. Moving huge transformers by rail has a similar set of constraints, based on the vicinity of rail lines to the transmission substation location.

Unfortunately, extra high-voltage and high-voltage transformers are huge pieces of equipment, and replacement and restoration time following a physical attack or transformer failure is not an overnight event. It could take months for parts to be manufactured, delivered and installed. It is clear that restoration initiatives are intimidating. Examples will be provided in Part 3 of the Physical Security blog series.

This blog was also published at on February 11, 2016.

While popular media continues to feature the ongoing cyber security threats to the electric utility transmission and distribution (T&D) grid across the globe, with recent cyber attacks in Eastern Europe, another T&D grid threat is looming on the horizon. Over the past 6 months, there have been repeated physical security attacks on utility T&D infrastructure in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia. The unfortunate truth is that substations and power lines on the electric transmission system are particularly vulnerable to physical attacks, where large, high-voltage transformers are typically located in exposed outdoor conditions, and transmission towers can be seen stretching to the horizon.
Incidents such as the Metcalf Transmission Substation gunshot attack in 2014 and the recent transmission tower attacks in Eastern Europe have received significantly less attention in the media. However, they have been serious enough that the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) in 2014 released and revised Critical Infrastructure Protection-14 (CIP-014) regulations that require utilities to secure their infrastructure from physical and cyber security threats, as well as to identify and strengthen weaknesses in key substations.

Equipment Initiatives
In 2015, a group of eight U.S. transmission system operators (TSOs) announced a new initiative to speed their response to major physical attacks or other equipment failures on the transmission grid by establishing regional warehouses and inventories to long lead-time critical replacement technologies. Participants include American Electric Power, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Duke Energy, Edison International, Eversource Energy, Exelon, Great Plains Energy, and Southern Company. These companies have committed to a memorandum of understanding to develop Grid Assurance, a limited liability company that will stockpile the critical equipment necessary to shield utility customers from prolonged transmission outages in multiple locations across the nation. Grid Assurance will own and provide participants and subscribers with timely access to an inventory of emergency spare transmission equipment that could otherwise take months to acquire.

Since the release of the NERC CIP-014 regulations in 2014, utilities are significantly more aware of potential threats and vulnerabilities in the grid. Aging infrastructure, natural disasters, and coordinated attacks on key substations are all major issues. Unfortunately, on the transmission grid, a single major attack or breakdown can have long-term regional or national effects on the United States. A recent 2015 industry survey looked at initiatives that over 200 TSOs have taken since the NERC ruling. Findings included:

  • 49% of utilities have identified threats and vulnerabilities to critical assets, though 28% haven’t taken further action
  • 42% of utilities surveyed have already developed physical security plans to address potential threats
  • 40% have not taken any hardening measures to limit or prevent damage to critical assets in the last 2 years

While it is clear that TSOs are vulnerable to both physical and cyber security threats, the obstacles they face in terms of timely service restoration are daunting, to say the least. I’ll discuss these obstacles in Part 2 of this blog series on physical security.

This blog was also published at on February 8, 2016.

I read a feature article earlier today from #Gigaom’s @UciliaWang announcing that a startup, “Fjord IT opened its first data center space in Oslo and is banking on a air cooling technology and cheap hydropower to attract European customers who want low-carbon cloud services,” using a much smaller footprint.  Ucilia went on to say that the “1,000 square meter (3,280 square feet) pilot project, is at the Hogas Industrial Park in Oslo. The space is filled with its efficient cooling technology and is also powered by cheap hydropower, which has a lower carbon footprint than fossil fuel-based power. Those attributes could make its IT services appealing to environmentally-minded businesses as well as businesses in countries that have renewable energy and emission-reduction goals.”

Gigaom’s article today was music to my ears, since I have been researching a white paper on large scale Greenfield data center parks like Niobrara planning to generate most of their 100+ MW onsite in Colorado and in Switzerland selling excess generation back to the grid, both incorporating next generation cooling, DC power distribution, and microgrid based distributed generation technologies (see, and  What concerned me most, was I was hearing these stories about new plans for huge 50+ MW data center campuses in North America, Europe, and Asia, but I was hearing little about the smaller data centers, which will also undoubtedly grow as our demand for more processing power, cloud, virtualized environments and BYOD support grows.

Given that most commercial and government data centers are still smaller and were built during an era when PUE’s of 2.0 or 3.0 were the norm and standard in the industry, the Fjord IT story reminded me that data centers of the past are becoming “Somebody I Used To Know!

I’m currently writing a white paper on large scale Data Center Energy Parks and Micro Grids, and am looking for examples and comments on #DemandResponse, #SmartGrid, #Renewables, and #DistributedGeneration.  I believe that there has been a lot of noise in the market about the Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple next generation data centers, but the discussion of the potential for these sites to leverage distributed renewables, utility scale battery storage, demand response, and other energy market monetization options has been secondary at best.  There are a number of excellent examples in the planning stages including the #Niobrara Data Center Energy Park, and the #Vineyards on the front range of Colorado.  I’d like to find additional great examples to highlight. Please send me a note if you have stories or examples.  If I use the content, I will make sure you get referenced and linked in the final document.


“The first thing you smell at the Huy Fong Foods factory in suburban Los Angeles is the overwhelming aroma of garlic, a key ingredient in the company’s signature product: #Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce….David Tran is the 68-year-old founder and owner of Huy Fong, and the creator of the sauce that has brought his family-run business some fortune and fame as one of the fastest-growing food companies in America. Last year, the company sold 20 million bottles.”

The story quoted above was posted today on @BW BloombergBusinessWeek is an amazing read.  Check it out here:

A great example of a startup in a huge industry cluttered with incumbents making it big.  With a new factory opening, will advertising be next?  I can just imagine #AliciaKeys wailing out “This sauce is on fire, this sauce is on fire……..”

There is a great infographic on the 10 things your should know about Sriracha by Vicki Chang on #OCWeekly.  Here are the first three.


Here’s the link to the full infographic and story:


I just happened to check my Twitter Timeline the other day on Tweetdeck and a Tweet from @Forrester’s David Truog @forrDavidT caught my eye.  It simply said, “Get ready for the ultra-connected customer to upturn marketing in 2013.  The link was: 
I read the short summary of their new study and the first of his recommendations rang true.

“As a marketer facing this surge of perpetually connected customers, you need to seize the opportunity and:

  • Master multichannel marketing now more than ever. “

Today I was reviewing a B2B company’s website and digital media strategy, and that quote resonated again, as I saw inconsistent branding across channels, multiple names for the same product line, 3 generations of corporate logos, and more.   For smaller startups and mid-sized companies, I believe this is a real problem, as each channel competes for attention and a limited marketing budget.

However, the critical thing to keep in mind now is that B2B customers are increasingly looking to multiple channels to research the companies they might buy from.  When the message is confusing, the branding and corporate image unclear, or the product names are inconsistent, these potential customers easily move on your competitors, usually the next company on their list. 

I think David Truog is definitely right on the money here!  I suggest that “People Get Ready, There’s A Train Comin’…….”

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