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This paper presents a method to identify and localize failures in smart grids. The method is based on a carefully designed Petri net (PN) that captures the modeling details of the protection system of the distribution network and allows the detection/identification of failures in data transmission and faults in the distribution network by means of simple matrix operations. The design of the PN model is carried out by carefully composing multiple PN models for single protection systems: Such an approach allows the identification of the faults despite possible strong penetration of distributed generation. In order to verify the method, two case studies are discussed. The results highlight that the proposed method can remove a lot of the complexity of the associated data analysis despite the possible presence of malfunctioning protection systems and misinformation due to communication and other errors.