Recent storms and record high temperatures have put a lot of stress on the power grid. Load shifting, smart meters, and integrating alternative energy sources are all part of the solution. But how do you measure and control what’s happening at all points on a widely distributed power grid, and then how do you coordinate all these technologies in the most effective way? In short, just how smart is the Smart Grid?


Let’s start with measurement. Phasors mean one thing to Star Trek fans and quite another to utility companies.  A phasor is a complex number that represents the magnitude and phase angle of the sine waves found in electricity. By placing phasor measurement units (PMUs) at critical points around the grid utility companies can measure power quality and assess local system conditions, enabling them to respond to local disturbances (see Figure 1) as well as balance power flow over different lines and from different power sources.


Figure 1: PMU data reveal dynamic behavior as the system responds to a voltage disturbance.


For all this to work over a large grid all phasor data is synchronized to a GPS radio clock; phasor measurements that occur at the same time are called syncrophasors. PMUs take voltage and current measurements and then digitize the results using A/D converters. This data is time stamped and sent over the network to a phasor data concentrator (PDC), where it is collected and sent to a computer to be analyzed by the  a Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) system at a central facility.

Synchrophasors enable a flexible, efficient smart grid by utilizing distributed measurements to maximize transmission efficiency and minimize outages. However, a major obstacle to deploying synchrophasors is the lack of standards for the PMUs that communicate line conditions back to a SCADA system.


Intel, Dell, National Instruments, and OSIsoft are helping overcome this obstacle through a synchrophasor data management solution based on the Intel® Intelligent Systems Framework. This solution combines high-performance PMUs from National Instruments with a Dell 19-inch server rack. The servers run phasor PDC software from OSIsoft that collects and analyzes data from multiple PMUs (see Figure 2). This solution enables advanced visualization, analytics, and early warning systems to help utilities detect evolving disturbances and avoid widespread blackouts.


Figure 2. The synchrophasor data management solution built on Intel® Intelligent Systems framework-based platforms employs high-volume, standard computing systems used across many industries in order to reduce deployment cost and complexity.


The National Instruments PMUs can interface with sensor hardware from a wide variety of vendors and can be updated while deployed on the grid to allow for new communications protocols or more advanced analysis. They’re powered by high-performance multicore Intel® Core i7 processors.


The PMU data from the synchrophasors is delivered to centralized Dell PowerEdge servers, which provide a complete computing, networking, and storage platform with three tiers of scalable storage. The Intel® Xeon® processor-powered servers deliver data in near real time to grid operators.


Grid operators can then manage and analyze the resulting mass of data using OSIsoft’s PI System, enabling them to quickly understand and react to problems. Data security is not an issue as the PI System meets strict North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) requirements.


Key to the success of the NI, Dell, OSIsoft synchrophasor data management solution is the use of standardized, optimized, and scalable hardware and software systems—the heart of the Intel® Intelligent Systems Framework value proposition. The North American power grid is an enormously complex network based on countless proprietary legacy systems. As the network starts to add distributed intelligence, it’s critical that these systems be able to seamlessly communicate and interoperate, not just at the substation level but on a regional  and even national basis.


The Intel® Intelligent Systems Framework provides a roadmap for readily scalable connectivity, manageability, and security based on the use of standardized, well supported hardware and software architectures. With the explosive growth of data that the Smart Grid is starting to generate—and which it requires to operate—a consistent framework for building and connecting devices that interoperate over the Smart Grid is critical to its success.


The use of Intel processors all the way from the National Instruments PMUs doing data acquisition to the Dell servers, storage hardware, networking gear, and client workstations simplifies the integration, connectivity, security, and manageability of an end-to-end solution.


Validated and tested to reduce a utility’s engineering and development costs and risk, the synchrophasor data management solution uses framework-ready hardware to provide the open architecture utilities needed to precisely sync and manage transmission and distribution systems. In addition to helping utilities improve efficiency, the framework-ready components increase compatibility and speed integration. This lets utilities focus on improving energy management instead of struggling to connect, manage, and secure the hardware.


In answer to our initial question, the Smart Grid is quite smart and getting smarter all the time.


Learn More

Solutions in this blog:


Related topics:


Dell is a Premier Member of the Intel® Embedded Alliance.

     Contact Dell>>

National Instruments is an Affiliate Member of the Intel® Embedded Alliance.

     Contact National Instruments>>

John Donovan
Roving Reporter (Intel® contractor), Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance
Low-Power Design
Follow me on twitter: @jdonovan43