What, how, when: 3 pressing questions for preparing an active grid

Right now, grid operators are asking themselves several serious questions at once, like “What now?”, “What’s next?”, and “How will I manage?”.

And the need for answers is becoming more urgent.

Faced with pressure from conscious consumers, a growing number of prosumers and devices, shifting regulations and competition from different industries, operators are being challenged to modernize the grid and prepare for an unknown future without sacrificing today’s stable, safe supply.

It’s a tightrope. Focus too much on the future and the current system could suffer. Fail to look ahead, and both customer satisfaction and your position as a leader actively transforming the energy landscape (which is critical to attracting investors and talent alike) is at risk.

The area of network communications brings this balancing act to the fore. With the amount of mission-critical asset types and classes growing exponentially alongside the number of control systems needed to connect them, the demand for stable, low-latency connections has never been higher.

But can these connections become the foundation of tomorrow’s transition-ready comms network today?

We believe that the answers lie in both existing and emerging technology.

Question 1: When can I get better visibility of DERs?

As pointed out in the latest Digitally Enabled Grid report, one of the most disruptive developments for distributors is the growing number of Distributed Energy Resources (DERs).

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Although they add variable capacity, they can be tricky to integrate into the broader grid. With operators in the dark about their number, location, generation, health, and impact on overall supply and energy flow constraints, it can be difficult to predict demand and system stability - particularly during times when prosumers may need support from the grid.

The question is, what comms network mix is needed to provide the level of visibility required?

Question 2: How will communication network saturation affect the flow of information?

As more intelligent devices are added to the grid, directly via utility-owned smart assets or through consumer-driven technology, the battle for stable, high-speed connections could limit overall system efficiency and stability.

With current communication technology battling to cope with the rapid growth in sensors, most utilities are choosing between costly, high-speed connectivity and using today’s fragmented networks that make it difficult to integrate data and maintain security.

Question 3: What is the most cost-effective way to “transition-proof” my comms network?

Understandably, another question amid falling rates and financial pressure is the cost of preparing the communication network for looming disruption.

Some are choosing to renew rather than reinvent their infrastructure – but due to the varied makeup and legacy systems behind today’s grid, significant strategic investment is needed to create a communication capable of powering the energy transition.

Answering the call

With so many unknowns ahead, there is no single answer to each of these questions. But there are multiple technologies that can be combined to create a comms network that is fit for purpose.

Adopting a hybrid solution that combines the flexibility and speed of mobile networks with the security and infrastructure of wired solutions can empower operators to protect today’s grid while preparing tomorrows – a powerful way to reduce upgrade costs.

This blended approach also allows operators to introduce and scale new technologies.
For example, with its low-latency and high-bandwidth, 5G can expand and leverage the possibilities of current mobile broadband and enable various solutions to increase visibility across the grid.

But it’s not the only tool in the box.

The LTE network offers a global standard that is already used by multiple providers and vendors and is being widely adopted because it can be used to connect many low-latency intelligent grid sensors.

The extended battery life of low power wide-area (LPWAN) technologies, both licenced and unlicenced, connected via LTE, is just one in which costs can be reduced despite increasing number of IoT devices.

More importantly, LTE is also forwards-compatible, making it the ideal, cost-effective bridge to 5G.

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No single technology can cost-effectively meet all needs. Most utilities will adopt a hybrid solution, combining the flexibility and deployment speed of mobile networks and the security of wired solutions.

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Technology and timing

Like every part of the utilities value chain, the energy transition will trigger an evolution of network communications and unexplored tangential opportunities.

Finding the right solution will mean combining the best of today’s technology with tomorrow’s possibilities to create a long-term solution that is affordable, effective, and equipped for whatever lies ahead.

Contact us to discuss your new network communication needs.

 

Kevin Kapich

Senior Manager – Technology, North America


Hugo Van Nispen

Managing Director – Industry Solutions


Rafael Granja

Director – Industry Solutions & Services

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