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Advanced Distribution Management Systems

Electric utilities are investing in updated grid technologies such as advanced distribution management systems to meet customer expectations of reliability, power quality, renewable energy use, data security, and resiliency to natural disasters and other threats.

NREL researchers work on a secure distribution grid management testbed for cyber security in power systems.

The "advanced" elements of advanced distribution management systems go beyond traditional distribution management systems by providing next-generation control capabilities. These capabilities include management of high penetrations of distributed energy resources, closed-loop interactions with building management systems, and tighter integration with utility tools for meter data management systems, asset data, billing, and more.

See how utilities are finding success using NREL’s Advanced Distribution Management System Test Bed

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  • Grid integration of distributed energy resources
    NREL has decades of experience with grid integration of distributed energy resources and world-class teams of experts dedicated to grid integration and DER technologies, including solar, buildings, vehicles, storage, and fuel cells. NREL has deep expertise across the value chain for distributed energy resource integration—from device design to nationwide impact analysis and hardware testing to deployment assistance.

  • Hardware-in-the-loop testing, including power hardware-in-the-loop, controller hardware-in-the-loop, remote power hardware-in-the-loop, and co-simulation
    The Energy Systems Integration Facility's megawatt-scale power hardware-in-the-loop capability allows NREL researchers and partners to conduct integration tests of hardware devices in the context of real-time, dynamic grid models. The 1-MW, bidirectional, three-phase AC power amplifier can be segmented into 250-kW units, which, along with smaller AC power amplifiers, enables testing of multiple devices, each with a separate, simulated point of common coupling. Each point of common coupling has independent phase control that enables simulation of a variety of grid scenarios, such as voltage sags/surges and complete loss of single or multiple phases. Both Opal-RT/RT-Lab and RTDS/RSCAD real-time simulation platforms are available to command the AC power amplifiers based on system simulations. In addition, NREL has developed approaches to co-simulate power hardware-in-the-loop in real time with commercially available power systems analysis software. This flexible architecture also enables multi-site testing.

  • Integrated market-transmission-distribution simulation
    NREL's high-performance computing-based Integrated Grid Modeling System (IGMS) co-simulates full-scale power systems from independent system operator to appliance scales, including rich multi-period market simulation, transmission and distribution power flow, and parallel simulations of hundreds to thousands of distribution feeders and millions of customers.

  • Flexible cyber-physical test platform combining hardware, hardware-in-the-loop, and network-simulator-in-the-loop
    NREL has developed network simulator-in-the-loop capability using OMNeT++ open-source software. The network simulator-in-the-loop can exchange real-time communication traffic with physical network devices and simulate different communication network topologies, which makes the communication network in the hardware test platform reconfigurable. Placing the gateways, simulated routing, and switching hardware within OMNeT++ allows simulation of different network topologies between power branches, delays, and error rates associated with transmitting packets. Network simulator-in-the-loop can intentionally introduce and accurately control different real-life communication phenomena in the hardware test platform, such as protocols, latency and bandwidth requirements, and loss of packets.

  • The Integrated Energy System Model
    The Integrated Energy System Model tool can model the distribution system and end-use loads in buildings, as well as home energy management system controllers. It is a co-simulation framework that brings the capabilities of multiple simulators together in a shared execution environment and manages time and data exchange between component models.

  • Dynamic distribution management system
    NREL is developing a dynamic distribution management system integrated with a novel look-ahead state estimator and connections with home energy management systems and smart photovoltaic inverters to achieve target functions such as minimum cost for all consumers in a particular period.


This project will establish a national, vendor-neutral advanced distribution management system testbed to accelerate industry development and adoption of advanced distribution management system capabilities. The testbed will enable utility partners, vendors, and researchers to evaluate existing and future advanced distribution management system use cases in a test setting that provides a realistic combination of multiple utility management systems and field equipment. The project team will work closely with an industry steering group to ensure that electric utility needs are met and use cases are realistic and valuable.

NREL is working with EPRI and Schneider Electric to advance intelligent control of connected devices. This work involves demonstrating an end-to-end framework of communication and control technologies and integrating operation of different domains within distribution systems through open-source software tools. The framework includes an enterprise integration test environment, commercial advanced distribution management system from Schneider Electric, open-software platforms, an open home energy management system platform, communication modules, and applications. This project incorporates open standards in a mixed-standard environment, where multiple communication protocols will co-exist—much as they might at an electric utility in the near future.

The goal of this project is to develop and demonstrate an advanced distribution management system that allows distributed energy resources to improve distribution system operations and simultaneously contribute to transmission-level services. In short, the team envisions (1) elevating load buses to the level of generator buses with respect to the degree of control authority they present to system operators and (2) simultaneously optimizing distribution-level measures such as resistive losses and nodal voltage magnitudes. NREL will bring significant expertise in network optimization and distributed control of power systems to this project.

This project will build an open-source advanced distribution management system platform that will accelerate the deployment of advanced distribution management system technologies to address the operational challenges faced by distribution utilities. The project will also examine the different architectures that advanced distribution management systems can be built on to meet the needs of utilities. By reducing the cost and complexity of deployment, and by quantifying the operational benefits, barriers to widespread deployment will be eliminated.


Effects of Home Energy Management Systems on Distribution Utilities and Feeders under Various Market Structures, 23rd International Conference on Electricity Distribution (2015)

Stochastic Optimal Scheduling of Residential Appliances with Renewable Energy Sources, IEEE Power and Energy Society General Meeting (2015)

View all NREL publications about advanced distribution management systems.


Murali Baggu

Manager, Power Systems Operations and Control Group | 303-275-4337