Market Insights

Algorithm Pinpoints Grid Status With Smart Meters Instead of Measurement Devices

May 22, 2023 by Shannon Cuthrell

Arizona State University researchers have developed an algorithm that pulls data from residential smart meters to identify network connectivity, system state, and outage locations in power distribution networks.

As power grids employ more distributed energy resources (DERs) in the ongoing transition to renewables, the need for upgraded network modeling and efficiency management tools has become all the more critical. These platforms allow utilities to determine local demand and dispatch power generation accordingly via distributed resources such as rooftop solar panels and bidirectional EV charging systems. 


Transmission lines

Transmission lines. Image used courtesy of Pok Rie/Pexels 


Researchers at Arizona State University (ASU) recently developed an algorithm that measures a power grid’s network status and locates outages/malfunctions faster and more efficiently than existing technologies. The model pulls data from residential smart meters rather than conventional measurement devices placed along a grid’s distribution network. 

The research was funded by a $3.1 million grant from the United States Department of Energy (DOE)’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). Active from August 2019 through May 2023, the project initially aimed to develop new models and control technologies to manage sensor-based distribution systems amid growing DER and battery storage adoption. The ASU researchers’ approach involved topology processing, load and DER models, distribution system state measurements, optimized scheduling, and system-level DER control techniques using inverter control flexibility. 

In a statement announcing the ARPA-E funding in 2019, the researchers said they planned to use resources from Arizona Public Service, the state’s largest electricity provider serving 1.3 million customers. They would further demonstrate the technology in practice with California-based utility software provider Nexant. 

Now that the algorithm has been developed and tested with an electric utility in Arizona, the researchers plan to refine the technology to reduce the duration of outages and stabilize voltages sent out to utility customers. 


How the Algorithm Works

ASU’s press release says that power grid situational awareness platforms generally cover three parameters: network connectivity (breaker or switch status), the system state (current voltage and power level), and outage locations. Existing software uses two modules to gauge these points—one verifying the topology information of medium-voltage lines (showing network connectivity and switch status) and the other determining the system state. 

However, since measurement devices are often unavailable or even nonexistent along distribution networks, grid workers sometimes need help pinpointing these parameters. With this in mind, the ASU researchers built an algorithm utilizing data from smart meters installed in homes. 

Smart meters provide two-way power and information flows, allowing utilities to have a complete view of consumption patterns to inform billing while customers enjoy greater control over their electricity output. The algorithm brings a cheaper and more efficient method for condition monitoring, in contrast to installing multiple measurement devices to send the data back to utility control centers. 

The invention comes amid heightened demand for DER monitoring and optimization software in the ongoing transition to renewable energy. Mojdeh Khorsand Hedman, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at ASU who led the development of the algorithm, plans to establish a lab to simulate a utility control room and demonstrate the invention’s function in practice. 

ASU secured a provisional patent for the new technology, extending one year of intellectual property protection until a permanent patent is filed. The university is also exploring licensing opportunities with private industry partners. 


Smart Meter Adoption 

As mentioned, ASU’s new grid monitoring algorithm is based on data from smart meters, which are growing in popularity across the U.S. as utility companies step up their grid modernization programs—some using federal funding to do so. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), signed in August 2022, expands the investment tax credit to cover microgrid controllers and standalone energy storage systems. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law activates the DOE’s Smart Grid Grant program to invest up to $3 billion in grid resilience technologies through 2026. 

According to statistics from the Edison Foundation’s Institute for Electric Innovation, around 124 million smart meters had been installed cumulatively in the U.S. through the end of last year—up from just 88 million in 2018. The organization estimated that around 78% of American households would have a smart meter in 2022. 

Per the U.S. Energy Information Administration, smart meters in the residential market accounted for 88% of total advanced metering installations in 2021 (the most recent year of available data). With the growing adoption of electric vehicle-to-grid charging systems and rooftop solar panels, this rate will likely rise alongside the expansion of smart grid infrastructure. And as more businesses and government facilities upgrade their building equipment for better efficiency, this growth will also spread to the commercial energy market. 


Advanced meter installations

Advanced meter installations have steadily risen across the United States since 2007. Image used courtesy of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission


A staff report released last December from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission found that the number of advanced meters in the U.S. has increased by around 8 million annually since 2016. The agency projected that IRA funding and tax credits would accelerate customer-site DER deployment and other technologies that allow new DERs to serve demand response across wholesale and retail markets.