Situation Awareness and Automation in the Electric Grid Control Room
Electric distribution utilities, the companies that feed electricity to end users, are overseeing a technological transformation of their networks, installing sensors and other automated equipment, that are fundamentally changing the way the grid operates. These grid modernization efforts will allow utilities to incorporate some of the newer technology available to the home user – such as solar panels and electric cars – which will result in a bi-directional flow of energy and information. How will this new flow of information affect control room operations? How will the increased automation associated with smart grid technologies influence control room operators’ decisions? And how will changes in control room operations and operator decision making impact grid resilience? These questions have not been thoroughly studied, despite the enormous changes that are taking place. In this study, which involved collaborating with utility companies in the state of Vermont, the authors proposed to advance the science of control-room decision making by understanding the impact of distribution grid modernization on operator performance. Distribution control room operators were interviewed to understand daily tasks and decisions and to gain an understanding of how these impending changes will impact control room operations. Situation awareness was found to be a major contributor to successful control room operations. However, the impact of growing levels of automation due to smart grid technology on operators’ situation awareness is not well understood. Future work includes performing a naturalistic field study in which operator situation awareness will be measured in real-time during normal operations and correlated with the technological changes that are underway. The results of this future study will inform tools and strategies that will help system operators adapt to a changing grid, respond to critical incidents and maintain critical performance skills.