Embracing Complexity: The Indispensable Need for Detailed AC OPF in Modern Power Grids

The power grid is fundamentally transforming in an era marked by rapid technological advances.


The power grid is fundamentally transforming in an era marked by rapid technological advances and the escalating integration of renewable energy sources (RES). As the CEO of a forward-thinking energy company and someone who delved deeply into the complexities of detailed AC Optimal Power Flow (AC OPF) during my PhD at Imperial College in 2016, I've witnessed first-hand the evolution of grid management tools. At that time, the notion of pivoting towards more sophisticated models like AC OPF was met with scepticism. However, the journey from those early days of doubt to the present has been vindicating and transformative for the energy sector.

The Limitations of Simplicity

Traditional power grid management has long relied on simpler power flow algorithms. While effective in a bygone era of less complex grids, these systems must be revised. They fail to address modern power systems' dynamic interactions and uncertainties, characterised by high-RES penetration, electric vehicles (EVs), and energy storage systems. Simplistic algorithms need more granularity for precision, often leading to suboptimal decisions and inefficiencies.

Why Detailed AC OPF Models are the Future

  • Handling Complexity and Uncertainty: Modern power grids are more than just electricity conduits; they are intricate networks with myriad variables and uncertainties. Detailed AC OPF models capture this complexity, more accurately representing the grid's dynamic nature.
  • Maximising Renewable Energy Integration: Transitioning to sustainable energy sources is no longer optional. Detailed AC OPF models adeptly manage the variability and uncertainty of RES, ensuring efficient operation while optimising renewable energy usage.
  • Real-Time Operational Excellence: The future power grid demands real-time analysis and optimisation. Detailed AC OPF models, integrated with advanced control systems, facilitate real-time decision-making, a necessity for responsive and efficient grid management.
  • Leveraging Technological Advancements: The advent of powerful computational tools (e.g. server PCs) and enhanced solvers has rendered the implementation of complex models like AC OPF feasible and efficient, even in real-time scenarios.
  • Meeting Regulatory and Environmental Goals: Environmental sustainability is a regulatory and ethical imperative. Detailed AC OPF models support this goal by optimising the mix of renewable and conventional energy sources, aligning economic and environmental objectives.

Bringing Existing Grid Management Systems into the Future

In the context of operational tools installed in Distribution System Operator (DSO) control rooms, such as Advanced Distribution Management Systems (ADMS) and Distributed Energy Resource Management Systems (DERMS), the necessity for detailed AC OPF models becomes even more pronounced. This adjustment in the operational approach offers several benefits to DSOs:

  • Enhanced Grid Resilience and Security: Detailed AC OPF models capture voltage, frequency, and angle variation alongside power balance. This enhanced modelling capability is vital for ensuring resilience and security of supply in distribution grids, especially under contingencies and extreme events where simpler models may lead to inaccuracies​​. Integration with ADMS/DERMS allows DSOs to monitor and manage grid stability more effectively, providing real-time solutions to maintain network integrity.
  • Stability and Dynamic Behaviour Management: The dynamic behaviours and stability issues introduced by high-RES penetration necessitate detailed AC OPF models in the operational toolkit of DSOs. These models are essential for designing resilient distribution systems and developing strategies to maintain frequency and voltage within admissible limits, especially after extreme events​​.
  • Optimal Resource Allocation and Planning: Detailed AC OPF models support DSOs in strategically planning and operationalising distribution grids. These models enable accurate sizing and allocation of RES and other distributed resources, considering both resilience and cost. This is particularly relevant under extreme events, where the grid may operate closer to its stability limits​​.
  • Modelling Real-World Scenarios with Uncertainties and Contingencies: Detailed AC OPF allows for considering real-world contingencies in DSO control rooms. This capability enhances the decision-making process, especially during emergencies and unplanned events​​​​.
  • Voltage Management and Operational Efficiency: Detailed AC OPF models are key in assessing and managing voltage profiles across the distribution grid. They enable the redistribution of power flows, reducing voltage deviation, power losses, and operational costs. This is particularly significant in ADMS/DERMS, where voltage management is a critical operational task​​.
  • Contingency Management and Ancillary Services: These models are essential for contingency analysis, allowing DSOs to evaluate the potential for voltage ancillary services during periods of high system stress, like faults or grid disturbances. They ensure the stability and efficiency of the distribution grid under such conditions​​.
  • Facilitating Energy Market Operations: Detailed AC OPF models are instrumental in adapting distribution grids to the complex dynamics of energy markets. They enable more accurate forecasting, bidding, and pricing strategies by considering various operational scenarios and market conditions. This facilitates more effective participation in energy markets, ensuring that grid operations are technically sound and economically optimized.

Respecting the Past, Embracing the Future

The persistence of simplistic systems in today's power grid management is akin to using a map in the age of GPS navigation. However, in addressing the limitations of existing simplistic systems in grid management, it's important to acknowledge their significant contributions to the energy sector over the years. These traditional algorithms laid the groundwork for what we have today, serving as reliable tools in less complex grid environments. However, as we look to the future, it's becoming increasingly clear that these foundational systems need to evolve to keep pace with the dynamic and intricate nature of modern power grids.

Combined with other modern technologies like digital twins that are becoming mainstream in DSO control rooms, the transition to more detailed AC OPF models is a natural progression in the energy sector's journey. This evolution is driven by a collective aspiration to enhance grid efficiency, stability, and sustainability. It's about building on the solid foundation laid by simpler systems, taking the best of what they offer, and integrating it with new, advanced methodologies to meet today's and tomorrow's challenges.

In this light, our approach is one of respectful innovation — recognizing the value of what has been, understanding the limitations of these systems in the current landscape, and thoughtfully moving forward with solutions that address these new challenges. This balanced perspective ensures we honour the past while embracing the future, aligning with the ongoing growth and transformation of the energy sector.

Introducing SMPnet’s Omega OptiSys and Clone

At the forefront of this transition is SMPnet with our Omega OptiSys and Clone products, which embody the advanced capabilities of detailed AC OPF algorithms. These solutions are designed to harness the full potential of modern power grids, offering unparalleled efficiency, stability, and sustainability.


As we stand at this pivotal juncture in the energy sector, I invite you to join us in embracing this technological leap. Explore how SMPnet’s Omega OptiSys and Clone can revolutionise your grid management experience. Whether you are navigating the challenges of high-RES integration or seeking to enhance grid resilience and operational efficiency, our solutions offer the advanced capabilities you need. Let's embark on this journey together, transitioning from the foundational systems of the past to the innovative solutions of the future. Discover the difference with SMPnet – where sophisticated technology meets practical, efficient grid management.

The transition to detailed AC OPF models is not merely an upgrade; it's a paradigm shift, a leap forward into a new era of power grid management. As industry leaders, it's our responsibility to champion this transition, embrace the complexity and harness the full potential of our power grids. The future is not just about managing power; it's about empowering management with the right tools. SMPnet’s Omega OptiSys and Clone are the tools for a sustainable, efficient, and resilient future.