Simplifying Power Grid Management for Electric Utilities

Accelerating modernization in electric substations.

Many electric utilities are in the process of modernizing their substation infrastructure to support the increasing generating capacity from distributed energy resources (DERs). They are also introducing more advanced automation and stronger cybersecurity at the substation.

As renewable energy represents a greater proportion of generating capacity, power grids need to support more complex distribution scenarios and dynamically match supply and demand. Why? Because the traditional one-way flow of power from the substation to consumers is changing. Solar and wind generation feed power into the electrical grid intermittently, and as more customers install their own DERs, the complexity of managing substations increases significantly. Residential subdivisions could even become virtual powerplants, with the local substations experiencing a reverse flow as excess power back into the grid.

For electric utilities, diverse power sources and non-traditional flows make balancing supply and demand increasingly challenging. This has prompted many of them to explore advanced technologies that improve forecasting and operational control while also enhancing automation and security.

Server Solution Enables Substation Modernization at Scale

Given these changing conditions, utilities need to implement their advanced distribution management systems (ADMSs) to support DERs and other technologies to ensure a high level of reliability and resiliency. To better manage the larger and more diverse data streams handled by the grid control systems, many utilities are bringing more processing capability, efficient automation, and enhanced cybersecurity into their substations. Accomplishing this modernization across all substations within a utility’s area of operations can be a complex, costly, and protracted undertaking without standardized, validated infrastructure hardware that can support these new challenging workloads.

Dell Technologies is committed to the success of the utility industry and collaborates closely with electric utilities and industrial partners. We have optimized the Dell PowerEdge XR12 server for substation deployment, ensuring compliance with IEC 61850-3, the international standard for hardware devices in electrical substations.

Intrinsic Security to Safeguard Utility Data

Dell PowerEdge XR12 Server.Electric utilities are frequent targets of cyberattacks and must address the risks associated with large-scale technology deployed across their bulk power systems, which are considered to be National Critical Infrastructure. For most utilities, the success of substation modernization will depend on strengthening their cybersecurity and addressing vulnerabilities at the edge and elsewhere in their environment. The XR12, designed with intrinsic security to give utilities an advantage in safeguarding their data and substation systems, can be an important element in increasing security. The advanced security capabilities of the Intel® Xeon® Scalable processor, including Intel Crypto Acceleration, complement and extend our security engineering.

Dell Technologies helps deliver intrinsic security in every phase of the server lifecycle, from design to manufacturing, through use and end-of-life. Utilities can deploy PowerEdge servers in highly secure and other environments. Our cyber-resilient architecture comprises every aspect of server design and operation, starting with the firmware and extending to the operating system, stored data, hardware components, chassis, peripherals and management capabilities. Secured Component Verification ensures that PowerEdge servers are delivered and ready for deployment exactly as they were built by Dell manufacturing.

Noteworthy security capabilities of the PowerEdge servers include encryption at the motherboard level, proactive auto-detection of approaching part failures, a secure parts supply chain, and advanced vulnerability analysis services. The Integrated Dell Remote Access Controller 9 (iDRAC9) offers utilities an arsenal of configurable server security features to help utilities reduce the number of in-person support visits. Dell OpenManage Integration for VMware vCenter (OMIVV) allows the streamlining of data center processes by enabling the management of physical and virtual server infrastructures with VMware vCenter Server.

We evolve and innovate PowerEdge security capabilities to help utility customers stay ahead of ever more sophisticated threats and risks to their systems and applications. Dell Technologies maintains stringent, auditable, zero-trust security across our global supply chain.

Optimized for Efficient Operations

Utilities can be confident that the XR12 — a ruggedized, single-socket 2U server with reverse mounting capability and a depth of only 16 inches — not only fits easily into existing substation racks but also deploys quickly and helps make better use of limited space. The XR12 offers up to two accelerator options to maximize performance and efficiency. Utilities can run multiple vendors’ software virtually on the same server, eliminating the need for a dedicated server to run each specific software application. Utilities accustomed to using dedicated servers for individual software applications will likely find that using a single high-performing device to run multiple workloads will simplify IT administration, reduce operational expenses and minimize their exposure to cybersecurity risks.

Virtualization — decoupling data and software workloads from physical hardware — is key to running several grid-monitoring software tools on a common hardware platform. It also keeps substation modernization and automation with the XR12 efficient yet scalable. Our server design supports virtualization technology from VMware to achieve optimal resilience and manageability of the software systems that manage substations.

Preparing for the Future of Renewable Power Distribution

Judging by the modernization initiatives underway in utilities, we expect that substations will evolve into small edge data centers that need to accommodate future artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) capabilities and significant growth in data volumes. We have already published design guidance for these more dynamic, powerful substations. They will play a critical role in delivering the intelligence that utilities will rely on as they manage grids with power from sustainable and conventional sources to reliably meet demand.

Dell Technologies OEM Solutions is committed to developing products and solutions that advance the achievement of net-zero climate targets. The Dell PowerEdge XR12 server has been validated to support substation digitalization efforts that are critical for the ongoing energy transition. As we partner with many leading software vendors, we strive to ensure that the PowerEdge XR12 will operate each of their validated designs to provide their end customers with a wide range of options to solve their specific challenges.

Learn more about Dell’s Rugged server family and the new utility grade offering on PowerEdge XR12.

Russell Boyer

About the Author: Russell Boyer

A passionate innovator, Russell leads the Utilities Industry practice at Dell Technologies focused on advancing human progress by developing solutions that accelerate the energy transition. His responsibilities include strategy, solution development, partner management, and go-to-market enabling the digital transformation of the energy industry. With over twenty years’ experience, he is a proven utility solutions expert, applying policy, regulations and standards to drive technology solutions which deliver business outcomes. A firm believer in accelerating innovation, he fosters a global utility industry community and ecosystem collaboration. He is a serving member of the GridWise Alliance developing an innovation framework for advancing grid modernization. Russell graduated from Texas A&M University with an MBA and a Bachelors in MIS. He enjoys spending time outdoors, riding mountain bikes, and spending time with family at the lake.