2017 Research Portfolio

Power Delivery and Utilization - Distribution and Utilization

Program 200 - Distribution Operations & Planning

Last Updated: 12-May-2016
Program Description

The distribution system is changing at an ever rapid pace. Much more so than any other area in the power system. Much of this has been driven by recent regulation such as the California Distribution Resource Plans (DRPs) and New York’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV). Other reasons are driven by changes in customer behaviors (low load growth), customer adoption of distributed energy resources (DER), prosumers, as well as recent technological advancements newly available distribution planners and operators. Tools and methods for planning and operating the distribution system were not designed to meet this changing landscape.

Distribution systems have been designed for one purpose: reliably serve all customers in a safe and cost effective manner. However in this new era additional objectives must be considered as well, including accommodating high levels of DER, increasing resiliency, improving operational efficiency, and actively using distribution systems to provide bulk system services. Traditional planning methods utilizing rules-of-thumb are no longer sufficient and methods and tools for truly optimizing distribution planning and operational functions is necessary.

Tools and technologies, such as distribution management systems, automation systems, protection systems, and planning tools must adapt to facilitate the needs of this new distribution system. New technologies and their integration will be critical to allow distribution planners and operators to meet these goals and realize this concept of an “Integrated Grid."  This creates certain challenges as some of these needs are current and immediate. As such, a more focused effort in the form of a dedicated EPRI program that is focused on assisting utilities in both the near-term and long-term research needs is required.

EPRI's Distribution Operations and Planning Program (P200) has been structured to provide members with research and application knowledge to support planning and management of today’s grid as well as tomorrow’s. The Program includes research that supports grid modernization and provides tools for planners, operators, and analysis experts of the modern distribution system. This program will serve as the hub for all activities related to distribution planning and operations.

Members of the Program gain access to a portfolio of projects that cover the range of distribution issues, as well as the opportunity to collaborate with other members and EPRI technical experts to share ideas and solutions, improve knowledge transfer, and ultimately improve safety, reliability, and operational performance.

Research Value

The mission of EPRI's Distribution Operations and Planning research program is to equip distribution planners and operators with the means necessary to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow. This includes the supporting and development of new planning processes and frameworks, models, tools, reliability assessment analytics, as well as incorporation of new automation, protection, and control technologies that will be required to transform the current distribution system into an active distribution system that integrates and uses new distributed technologies.

With the knowledge acquired through this research program, members will gain access to information that can help them accomplish the following:

  1. Plan and operate a changing, integrated distribution system;

  2. Enable planners to take advantage of new analysis methods within their existing planning tools (e.g., hosting capacity methodology, advanced distribution automation and control, etc.)

  3. Support the implementation of advanced distribution control functions for reliability improvement, voltage control, and the dynamic grid management;

  4. Assess and vet the costs and benefits of smart grid applications and advanced technologies; and

  5. Understand industry-leading practices in the management and operation of modern distribution systems.


EPRI's Distribution Operations and Planning research program delivers value using the shared experiences and understanding of its utility members in conjunction with the expertise of EPRI's staff.  The program conducts research projects that lead to methods and tools used by system planners and operators responding to the challenges of modernizing the distribution system.

The program conducts research projects that lead to prototype methods and tools that are applied and validated by system operators before being transferred to commercial vendors that supply and support member applications. EPRI also engages with external industry standards, regulatory, and research efforts to ensure that the EPRI research program is taking advantage of broader industry efforts and advancing the state of the art.

The research in the Distribution Operations and Planning Program addresses three primary areas: -

  1. Advancement of distribution planning practices, methods, and tools

  2. Identification and application of new protection techniques for improved grid resiliency

  3. Advancement and incorporation of new approaches for modernizing grid operations

This research program also strives to provide members near-term, mid-term, and long-term value each year. This is accomplished through close collaboration and feedback from utility advisors and task force members.

This program is designed for close coordination with the work in other research areas, particularly Integration of Distributed Energy Resources (P174), Distribution Systems (P180), Bulk System Operations (P39) and Bulk System Planning (P40), Energy Storage and Distributed Generation (P94), Information and Communication Technology (P161), Energy Efficiency and Demand Response (P170), Bulk Power System Integration of Variable Generation (P173), Technology Assessment, Market Analysis, and Generation Planning (P178), and Understanding Electric Utility Customers (P182).


Although EPRI's Distribution Operations and Planning Program is newly founded in 2017, the foundation for this new program was formed out of efforts within the Distribution Systems Program (P180). Prior research and findings from this effort has given valuable information that has helped its members and the industry in numerous ways: The following products highlight recent results from these efforts:

  • Distribution Modeling Guidelines: Recommendations for System and Asset Modeling for Distributed Energy Resource Assessments (3002006115): This product provides guidance on the distribution system modeling elements that are critical to the future of distribution planning with DER. Each component is discussed separately, providing insight into scope, gap issues, value, challenges, approach, and requirements. In addition, each element is prioritized based upon relative importance and urgency. Through effective modeling of the distribution system a broad range of benefits can be realized from improved confidence in decision making to increased efficiency of DER impact assessments, visibility into the distribution system, and better utilization of existing assets.

  • Protecting the Modern Distribution Grid: Short-Circuit and Open-Circuit Inverter Test Results (3002006116): This product characterizes how to model photovoltaic inverters in system impact studies, particularly using EPRI’s OpenDSS simulator. This research also characterizes overvoltages and fault current contributions from inverters, by adding to the database of inverters that have been tested. This research presents open-circuit and short-circuit tests on four different single-phase inverters in a low-voltage lab with sag generator. It also outlines the plans for additional testing and model development during 2016.

  • Incorporating Distribution Automation into Planning Tools: Development of a System Control Interface for OpenDSS (3002006113): This product outlines the System Control Interface module prototype developed to improve the ability to consider distribution automation in planning. An example case is also included.

  • Distribution Automation with Fault Location Isolation and Service Restoration (DA/FLISR) Automated Measurement and Verification (3002006129): This product developed guidelines that aim to assist distribution automation engineers and project managers with conceiving of an automated process to collect and report on benefits of Distribution Automation/Fault Location Isolation and Service Restoration deployments, and potentially providing these requirements to a commercial vendor to develop them.

  • Distribution Management System Planning Guide: Load Balancing and Optimal Network Configuration (3002006128):  This product developed a distribution management system guide for load balancing and optimal network configuration  that provides a guidance from which a distribution engineer or control center professional could learn about the key issues, key decision points, and pros/cons of each choice which lead to a successful deployment and utilization of these planning/operations applications. This guide integrates the available background information about the engineering, benefits, manual approaches, and DMS-based approaches to optimization of circuit configuration and phase loading. Knowing that every utility is different, with different “as is” conditions, this guide does not propose a best solution, but equips the utility engineer with the tools necessary to craft a solution best suited for their needs...

  • Distribution Planning Reference Book: Installment 1 (3002006114): This product is the first installment of a Distribution Planning Guidebook containing chapters on planning with DSG, optimal recloser/DA switch siting, planning for harmonics, and energy storage modeling for planning.

Key Activities

In 2017, this program expects to accomplish the following objectives:

  • Advance development and application of utility planning tools and guidelines to help distribution planners and protection engineers fully incorporate advanced distribution technology into future distribution system designs.  This research into protection schemas that accommodate multi-directional flows and high intermittent DER penetration supports EPRI Research Imperative 1 - Develop an Integrated Grid Platform.

  • Transform the current Grid Modernization Project Set into a new project set dedicated to Operations.  The Operations Project Set will leverage the Distribution Operations Interest Group and significant EPRI and industry work on the “The Integrated Grid” for additional research to support the ever evolving role of distribution operations, and its key relationships with planning, reliability and asset management.

  • Provide mechanisms for technology transfer to support members with technical resources, training, and standards information as well as with key technical developments in the industry.

Estimated 2017 Program Funding
Program Manager
Jeff Smith, 865-218-8069, jsmith@epri.com
Non-EPRI Members: Contact Program Manager - Jeff Smith; 865-218-8069; jsmith@epri.com
Last Updated
  • PS200A: Planning

    This project set is designed to provide members with high-impact resources that cover topics relevant to distribution operations and planning and to keep members up-to-date on the latest technology advancements and industry issues.

    Distribution companies face a variety of pressures and technical challenges. To address these challenges, utility planners, engineers, and operators need to stay familiar with the latest technologies, software tools, standards, and procedures for optimizing distribution system performance. At the same time, many utilities are losing valuable experience as the aging workforce retires. This project helps to offset this loss of experience and expertise by serving as a technical resource for information on current and emerging industry challenges and solutions.

    • P200.001: Technology Transfer and Resources

      Distribution companies face a variety of pressures and technical challenges. To address these challenges, utility planners, engineers, and operators need to stay familiar with the latest technologies, software tools, standards, and procedures for optimizing distribution system performance. At the same time, many utilities are losing valuable experience as the aging workforce retires. This project helps to offset this loss of experience and expertise by serving as a technical resource for information on current and emerging industry challenges and solutions.

  • PS200B: Operations

    This project set focuses on modern tools for planning and designing distribution systems, new analysis methods and modeling approaches, and incorporation of distributed energy resources (DER) and advanced distribution controls into the planning process.  The planning, design, and protection of electric distribution systems are undergoing dramatic changes.  In the past, distribution planning applied “fit and forget” approaches to design the system such that acceptable electrical conditions are maintained during peak load. With the growing penetration of DER (including highly variable renewable generation resources and emerging customer participations), utilities need to analyze and plan for dynamic and complex operating conditions that can occur at any time throughout the year. Key research issues involve evaluating modeling requirements and approaches for the design of distribution systems that take into account these advanced functions.

    Advanced control schemes that can automatically reconfigure electric distribution feeders as well as high penetrations of DER have added complexities to distribution protection practices.  For example, fault current contributions from multiple generation devices at multiple locations on the feeder may alter the time coordination of distribution protection devices that "see" different fault current levels. Furthermore, feeder reconfiguration by advanced control schemes such as fault location, isolation, and service restoration (FLISR) and optimal network reconfiguration may extend the required reach of a protective device beyond its normal settings.  For these reasons and others, the modern distribution grid may need "adaptive" protection schemes that automatically switch to the most appropriate setting group based on current system conditions.

    The work being done in this project set is closely coordinated with and designed to complement the work being done in the Integration of Distributed Energy Resources (P174), Distribution Systems (P180), Bulk System Planning (P40), Energy Storage and Distributed Generation (P94), Information and Communication Technology (P161), Energy Efficiency and Demand Response (P170), and Technology Assessment, Market Analysis, and Generation Planning (P178).

    • P200.002: Planning for Active Distribution Systems

      The degree of change currently occurring at the distribution level is without precedent. Distributed energy resources (DER) integration, new forms of customer participation, and other DER are not only altering the nature of system power flows but also shifting focus further out to the edges of the system and introducing new forms of uncertainty. New technologies and advanced distribution automation and controls offer a wide range of potential benefits to the system but also increase system complexity and introduce new system design challenges. Similarly, more widespread monitoring and metering is providing new levels of system visibility and understanding as well as unlocking potential new operations.

      These changes, and their impact to the system, are not accounted for when applying traditional distribution planning tools and methods – which were developed to meet the needs of a more passive distribution system. Consequently, modern planning methods, tools, and models are needed to respond to evolving system characteristics and expanding objectives in order to provide planners the means to ensure that current and future distribution system designs will remain safe, reliable, and cost-effective. Additionally, improved assessment and evaluation tools will provide a better understanding of new system behaviors, enable more informed investment decisions, and facilitate widespread adoption and integration of new technologies and resources.

    • P200.006: Protecting the Modern Distribution Grid

      The performance of distribution protection has a direct impact on customer outages and power quality. With the fast pace of progress in multi-function protection and control device and distributed energy resources the industry faces significant challenges to integrating the new technologies with existing long-life distribution infrastructure. The challenges include developing protection solutions that are secure, reliable and economical, while also being practical to commission and repair, straight-forward to configure and sufficiently flexible to cater for grid changes that could occur over its service lifetime.

  • PS200C: Tech Transfer and Industry Coordination

    The recent launch of the Distribution Operations Interest Group and significant EPRI and industry work on the Integrated Grid have demonstrated the need for increased focus on the distribution operations area. This Project Set supports the ever evolving role of distribution operations, and its key relationships with planning, reliability and asset management. 

    This project set develops and evaluates advanced distribution system applications for reliability improvement, system optimization, asset management, and distributed resource integration. These applications involve implementation of monitoring equipment (sensors), communications infrastructure, and advanced protection and control functions. 

    The project set will also analyze advanced distribution management functions and develop approaches for incorporating these functions into system design and operation to improve the overall performance and efficiency of the distribution system.  It also works with member utilities to demonstrate advanced functions for development of application guidelines and identification of gaps in current technologies.

    The work being done in this project set is closely coordinated with and designed to complement the work being done in the Distribution Systems (P180), Bulk System Operations (P39), and the Information and Communication Technology (P161) Programs.

    • P200.003 Distribution Automation / Automated Restoration

      Utilities have been, and will continue to invest millions of dollars in the field of switching equipment, communications infrastructure, information technology, and human resources to plan, design, install, commission, operate and maintain Distribution Automation solutions that incorporate some method of automated restoration.  These systems are deployed with many objective functions, most notably the desire to minimize sustained customer interruptions and outage hours. 

      There are a tremendous number of key design and operational decisions that are involved with a successful deployment, and the electric distribution system is becoming ever more complex.  This equates to a significant need in the industry to innovate, evaluate, and demonstrate solutions to meet these challenges, while optimizing the benefits achieved for every dollar invested. 

    • P200.004 Operational Studies and Research

      Initiated in 2016, this new project will encompass a wide range of studies and research to determine the most effective approaches to a number of operational decisions.  Existing decisions may be based on historical norms for a particular utility, regulatory requirements or pressures, local customer expectations or some other combination of factors.  These decisions may impact customer reliability metrics, operational and maintenance costs, or other measureable results.  This research will expose the key contributing factors that lead to different approaches, enabling utilities to evaluate the benefits of changing from their existing operational practices. 

      The impacts of the changing distribution utility landscape, including the challenges associated with distributed energy resources, net zero customers and the integrated grid will be factored into this research. 

    • P200.005 Smart Distribution Applications for Distributed Energy Resources

      This project will include an in-depth investigation of smart distribution applications for monitoring and controlling distributed energy resources (DER) such as distributed generation, renewables, and energy storage. The expanded role of DER in distribution automation, (fault location isolation and service restoration (FLISR), and rotating load shedding applications will be explored.

      In 2017, this project will continue to explore the key changes to DMS applications that result from the presence of high penetration DER on the distribution system.  Following on work in 2015 and 2016 to characterize the impacts on Volt/VAR/CVR and DA/FLISR, this project will begin exploration of the impacts on the power flow analysis.