The Internet of Things (IoT) is on everybody’s mind and analysts expect billions of connected devices in the upcoming years. In order to meet the increasing demands of products for consumers and IoT solutions for companies and business customers, new standards for transferring data have to be determined.
Traditional PLC-based smart metering solutions require the installation of PLC data concentrators in remote and unattended second tier substations. PLC Data concentrators handle communications with the different smart meters installed at consumer premises, consolidate the metering data and send it to the AMI management systems. (more…)
PRIME (PoweRline Intelligent Metering Evolution) is a PLC (Power line communication) technology based on the ITU G.9904 specification. It uses OFDM (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing) technology to provide an efficient physical connectivity to elements that make up a smart grid, employing medium and low voltage power distribution networks that already exist.
Smart Grids can be thought of as computer intelligence and networking abilities applied to a dumb electricity distribution system, with the aim to improve operations, maintenance and planning so that each component of the electric grid can at the same time talk and listen. This set of operational features leads to automation, a key aspect in smart grid technologies.
But of course, in order be able to talk about Smart Grids, reliability of communications must come first, providing the basic infrastructure that ensures the trustworthiness of the link.
Its importance becomes clear when there is an electrical overload and real-time monitorization of the grid is required. In these cases, it is crucial to be able to take immediate action upon the network to avoid cascade failures in the electricity grid.
Nowadays, a regular Smart-Grid deployment can include thousands of remote points, typically unattended and rather isolated. Since utilities can’t always use their own infrastructure, especially in areas where the deployment of their networks are limited or scarce, the usage of third party networks provided by carriers reduce the necessary investment.
The following points must be considered when deploying a Smart-Grid network:
- Smart-Grid communications require advanced networkingprotocols such as VLANs, VRFs, QoS and Policy routing to guarantee service isolation
- Multi-carrier fall-back, in order to optimize service continuity
- Advance troubleshooting and management for easy deployments, specially under unknown conditions
- In-house HW design for flexible product development and integration of the latest technologies
- And of course, corporate security for critical applications, so that security threats are minimized
Although all these features contribute to ensure communications, corporate security mechanisms are by far the most critical due to three inherent factors to Smart Grids:
1. The isolation of locations points, than can also pose serious threats. In other words, how can we avoid access to the network in these unattended points? A single solution does not exist, and it is necessary to employ a set of technologies and tools, including:
– Device authentication with AAA using TACACS+
– Systems for detection of physical access (e.g. door sensors, cabinet alarms, etc.)
– Passwords for DMVPN based on serial number
– Real time monitoring system
– Destination packet filtering based on device MAC address
2. The existence of malware propagation, and the need to be fully protected against it. Common solutions among the largest electricity companies include dynamic rules per sessions, traffic pattern detection and SCADA firewalls; protocol-based filtering & traffic patterns detection; or PAT firewall & routing policies per traffic type.
3. The importance of data integrity, achieved by using DMVPNs to interconnect remote locations and ease management; IPSec, with the latest encryption (RC4, DES, 3DES and AES 256) and authentication (SHA-1 & 2); and digital certificates such as X.509v3, LDAP, PKIX, PEM and DER.
A different problem comes up when device failures occur, which require replacements and usually become a source of expense (both of money and time) mainly due to the distance that needs to be covered to get to them. If a power failure is disturbing, imagine it lasting a few hours or even days for a cause that could be avoided using state of the art technologies.
Hardware failures on remote locations can be triggered by the following circumstances:
– Dust & Temperatures. Because of their very nature, industrial devices are not allowed to make use of fans to keep temperatures below dangerous levels. But at the same time, unattended locations can vary from very low freezing temperatures in the winter to extreme heat in the summer. And there is also dust, which by leaking into a standard, non-sealed device, could severely affect the fan performance and circuitry. For that reason, and in order to ensure operation under the most radical circumstances, devices must use state of the art technologies to endure these scenarios without breaking down or malfunctioning.
– Electromagnetic Discharges. The powerful electric currents that flow through a Smart Grid create EM fields that, at times, interfere with other devices such as switches. As a result, they can become untimely activated, causing unpredictable effects in the grid and affecting other electronic devices in the surroundings. This, in turn, can lead to a series of internal voltaic arches that, in a cascade fashion, can literally burn down the devices inside the grid unless they are able to cope with potential differences on the order of kV.
– Power supply. Power supply is not always as stable as one would like it to be. This is particularly true at substations and transformation centers, where sharp variations of energy may occur. And there can be grounding differences too, fairly frequent when it comes to low & medium voltage substations. Outstanding standards and the presence of special multirange power supply units that endure these high voltage peaks becomes a necessity.
In Teldat, our continuous and absolute commitment to RTD has allowed us to overcome this complex grid of challenges, working alongside with the largest electricity companies, understanding their needs and incorporating them into our Regesta router family.
We were recently present, as a sponsor, at the European Utility Telecom Conference (EUTC) in Dublin. There we had the opportunity to further experience the most commonly used Smart Grid technologies and how these optimized both deployment and maintenance costs, by adapting to certain topologies.
There is a multitude of smart technologies for data transmission communication networks in and around cities. Examples include cable technology such as PLC (broadband/narrowband), fiber and xDSL, as well as wireless, such as 3G/LTE, 6LoWPAN and SigFox
Cable based technology is efficient in crowded areas, where cabling needs to cover a large number of communication devices. An example of this, in larger cities, is the deployment of fiber to cover blocks containing thousands of homes. Depending on the technology selected, the same cable used to transport electricity can be repurposed (PLC), or the user may install xDSL copper pairs or a specific cable (fiber). How far these are able to reach, also depends on the chosen technology.
Despite having a reach of only a few kilometers, utility companies prefer using PLC (as existing cable can be reused to transport and distribute electricity). This makes PLC particularly suitable for short reach cable communication: between electricity counters and the transformation/distribution centers, for example, or between neighboring substations.
For substations sharing multiple carrier communication and electricity distribution networks, communication cabling can be reused through xDSL technologies, which can reach distances up to 20-30 kilometers without requiring additional cable. This leaves fiber for long-distance communications between highly used centers, or for new electricity distribution networks (where fiber is installed at the same time as electric wiring and, consequently, at a marginal cost).
The quality of cabling to domestic environments doesn’t always allow for reliable communications over PLC (due to possible interferences). Under these circumstances, radiofrequency, such as 6LoWPAN, stands out as a good alternative, chiefly because cabling to the end user is avoided. Technologies such as SigFox are particularly interesting due to their low consumption, and are quickly gaining ground in water and gas deployments, which logically can’t be powered through electricity for security reasons. However, given that a network of base stations must be implemented for this technology, there must be enough devices in the area to justify the cost of said deployment.
The most wide spread technology is 3G/LTE wireless, already in place, this means the telecommunication carriers can reuse their coverage infrastructures in rural and low density areas, thus minimizing their investment to only the essentials for communication. By using third party networks, this also implies the use of management and encryption technologies, guaranteeing both data independence and integrity.
Teldat specializes in the use of cellular technologies, EDGE / 3G / LTE, in Smart Grid deployments, and is the leading supplier of high-end communication routers equipped with both cipher and mass management tools: all designed for deployments for remote and underserved areas.
The current state of the art technology allows you to activate security mechanisms in different network communication devices, so guaranteeing data confidentiality, integrity of transmitted data and availability of said information.