Together with some Teldat colleagues I recently attended the annual conference of EUTC (European Utilities Telecom Council), which brought together some of the main actors in the development of the Electric Grid, not only from Europe, but from all over the world.
The Grid is evolving at a huge pace to be able to cope with the enormous transformations that are taking place both in generation and consumption of electricity. The sessions provided much insight into how these changes are affecting the Electric Grid and what will need to be done in order to adapt to them.
The grid: electrical generation and consumption
Electrical generation is quickly becoming distributed through the development of new electrical plants (mostly renewables). In addition to having to control more generation points, the complexity greatly increases due to the variable output of many of these new plants.
As for electrical consumption, the Grid needs to cope with important upcoming challenges, such as the use of electric vehicles, which demand very large amounts of power while they charge. When correctly managed, the batteries on these vehicles could also serve as backup power in certain scenarios. Some consumers also use solar power to reduce their electricity consumption during the daytime. These are only some examples of the large changes in electricity consumption that are developing. Taking into account and adapting to this fast changing environment is vital to maintain the reliability of the Electrical Grid.
Teldat´s presentation at EUTC
The Conference sessions explored the innovations that are being applied in the Smart Grid in order to maintain and increase its reliability in the face of the increased complexity that is developing.
Various Conference sessions by all actors involved in Smart Grid deployments explored how to adapt and upgrade the Smart Grid’s communication network (the “Smart” part of the Grid) in order to cope with the new scenarios. The solutions that were studied included the transition from legacy SCADA networks to modern packet-based solutions. Current deployments were reviewed and new possibilities were proposed in order to ensure that the Electric Grid can remain stable and secure. In fact security was one of the main issues analyzed, given that the Electric Grid has become part of the critical infrastructure in developed nations, which rely on it for the wellbeing and everyday needs of their citizens. Sessions did not forget to explore how to make the whole Grid interconnect while blocking outside attacks which could compromise its integrity.
My presentation focused on the challenges and opportunities faced when bringing network connectivity to the outer parts of the electrical network: the smaller secondary substations. At these locations the DSO (Distribution System Operator) companies typically cannot provide network connectivity using their own infrastructure and must rely on public networks or deploy new networks in order to assure proper connectivity. Teldat can offer a solution for these cases based on its successful Regesta-PRO ER router line.
Nowadays the whole electric grid is rapidly changing worldwide. Generation quickly becomes distributed through the use of new renewable energy sources (primarily wind and solar based). Consumption also takes new forms, as users develop new needs through the use of electric vehicles and smart appliances able to select the optimal time to operate. The distribution network has to quickly evolve and adapt to the new generation and consumption scenarios in order to continue to provide the level of service that consumers have come to expect and demand.
The increased complexity of the electric grid cannot be managed with traditional setups. In order to face these new challenges the electric network must be better intercommunicated and it needs to be able to provide its operators with precise and current information. This enables informed decisions and guarantees the continued operation of the grid, while preventing failures which could quickly cascade.
By incorporating telecommunication technologies into the electric grid, many new services for clients can also be realized and management of the whole system becomes easier and cheaper. A comparatively small investment to upgrade the network will quickly pay for itself in the form of more streamlined management and new services for customers.
New possibilities for grid operators
- Constant control and monitoring of the electrical substations. Black-outs and overloads can be prevented by monitoring the whole distribution network and watching for signs of problems. Additionally decisions such as when to connect alternative power sources can be taken quickly. Areas with problems are quickly isolated so that they do not affect the rest of the network.
- Reduced operation costs. By remotely monitoring the whole system, electrical companies no longer need to send out personnel in order to carry out certain maintenance tasks or to check the status.
- Offloading part of the generation costs, as consumers self-generate (but are charged for the management of the system and back-up availability).
- Possibility of including new renewable generation sources, with lower OPEX costs and reduced dependencies on varying fuel prices.
- Reduced investment in generation due to more stable consumption pattern along the day. Supply can be more constant and the generation no longer needs to cover extreme demand peaks. This leads to less backup generators.
- Reduced liability to consumers’ compensation for electrical outages.
- A secured communications channel that is immune to security threats and can be used for additional services.
New services for consumers
By upgrading its network, the electric operator can offer (and monetize) new services to its consumers, including:
- High availability contracts for industrial clients, given the increased reliability of the whole network.
- Ability to constantly monitor electrical usage and receive detailed reports. The consumer can invest in more efficient appliances due to a better understanding of their electrical consumption.
- Possibility of using new high consumption devices (ex. electric cars) without putting the electrical installation at risk
- Possibility to self-generate part of the electrical consumption. Thereby being more resilient to electrical grid failures.
- Programming intelligent devices (i.e. washing machine, electrical car, water heater …) to activate in valley consumption periods in order to pay lower electrical prices.
- Under certain circumstances, ability to instantaneously change the capacity of their own network. The electrical company can remotely adjust the client’s meter (network permitting) to allow higher or lower power consumption.
Teldat provides the communications network for electric operators. It empowers the grid owner with new opportunities while safeguarding its data and infrastructure. Teldat employs the same protocols for which it has gained recognition in critical sectors such as banking, thereby guaranteeing a secure network, protected from intrusions.
Cellular networks allow new services by making Internet access ubiquitous. Their increasing coverage, reliability and speed allow businesses and end customers alike to take advantage of new possibilities, although at the same time they increase dependence on Internet availability for everyday activities.
However certain areas do not receive reliable cellular coverage. A typical case is that of railway networks, which can include long stretches along uninhabited regions in which it is not cost-effective to deploy a cellular network. Even in areas with coverage, passengers’ access to cellular networks is hindered by attenuation in network signals produced by the train’s own body. Some passengers may also face high roaming tariffs to access the Internet. In addition to passengers, M2M units and the train staff could also greatly benefit from network connectivity, but they face the same challenges.
In order to access the Internet aboard a moving train, different approaches can be followed.
The first option is for the cellular network operator to deploy additional cellular capacity along the railway tracks. This solution is rarely cost effective and in any case the signal reception is still obstructed by the coachwork of the train. In addition passengers need a cellular contract with that particular operator in order to enjoy network access.
Another option is to use signal repeaters (possibly even aboard the train). However this is only feasible in areas where there is some signal available to begin with, and network capacity is seriously affected.
A better option is to establish an independent network aboard the train. M2M systems can be connected using Ethernet cabling and Wi-Fi can be deployed to reach every corner. An onboard router controls upstream connections and can combine different network access technologies (including cellular with external high gain antennas, satellite, and Wi-Fi along the tracks) to ensure failsafe and high speed connectivity. Additional routers may also be deployed to ensure higher redundancy.
Having a full network with high speed Internet connectivity aboard the train opens many new possibilities to streamline rail operations and at the same time creates customer loyalty by offering an incentive to travel by train instead of driving or taking a plane.
Among the many new services which can be deployed we can mention some related to the train operation, such as:
• Real-time central access to on-board cameras for security purposes.
• Remote monitoring and management of on-board systems.
But we should not forget services catered to the passenger:
• Internet access (free or at a cost).
• Display of information on internal screens including maps, schedules of connecting trains, and advertisements.
• Access to on-board cafeteria or restaurant for orders.
When deploying various services, the routers aboard the train must ensure that all of them operate independently and do not interfere with one another. The routers must also control that at times when there is limited bandwidth available the most critical services are catered to first. In addition it is important to secure sensitive information using strong encryption techniques, as well as to provide flexible management and failsafe operations.
Teldat has built a range of routers and access points which are especially designed and certified for the demanding environment found aboard a train. The H1 Rail routers and W2002T-n access points combine to offer endless possibilities aboard rolling stock.
In order to remain competitive in an increasing complex market, train operators need to streamline their operations and find new ways to ensure customer loyalty. Having full Internet connectivity aboard the trains is a cost-effective way to quickly improve both these areas.