Little things can make a big difference as they accumulate. (Want proof? Just look at the Grand Canyon.)

The same holds true in electrical distribution networks. New technology offers ways to gather and dig into the data on how our systems work and tap into efficiencies that sound small but add up to significant gains.

Utilities and their customers depend on operating a cost-effective electrical transmission and distribution grid. Sometimes that means expensive upgrades and major infrastructure replacements. But in many cases, implementing different control options on the existing network is an easy way to manage resources and save money.

Conservation voltage reduction (CVR) is a well-established method to enhance value by slightly reducing the service voltage at the customer connection to reduce total energy usage. This works because most electrical equipment loads consume less power at a lower voltage.

Similarly, the concept of volt/VAR optimization (VVO) is the practice of tightly controlling voltage and volt-ampere reactive (VAR) flow over a system to reduce energy losses and shave peak demand. Although VVO has been used in some form for decades, it is increasingly being seen as a way to address power quality, energy efficiency and reliability savings.

A newer approach is paring VVO with CVR as a simple, sensible way to wring more value from the existing system. This pairing, sometimes referred to as distribution volt/VAR control (DVVC), is one way utilities are utilizing as many assets as possible to reduce the system and end point voltage. DVVC is often implemented as a control algorithm programmed to achieve optimal distribution voltage profiles and VAR flows on the distribution system.

By optimizing resources and making sensible minor adjustments, studies have estimated that VVO alone could potentially save 2 to 3 percent of annual U.S. electricity consumption. Combined with CVR, those incremental savings add up to less power generation required from utilities, reduced consumption of natural resources, reduced stress on the electrical grid, and direct pocketbook savings for utility customers.

DVVC holds the potential to add significant value for utilities by helping them get better results from the systems they already have in place. Small adjustments through the control algorithm could make a big difference.


Want to know more about this systematic approach to leveraging distribution system data? Check out our recent white paper on DVVC.

Download the White Paper

Jenny Macy, PE, is a section manager at Burns & McDonnell. Her background includes electric utility SCADA and communications, and substation and distribution automation.