Smart Grid: The role of communications in the evolution of power grids

4g networksSmart Power Grids consist of the integration of power grid elements in advanced information systems to benefit power suppliers, distributors and consumers. These grids combine generation and distribution resources with demand through wide use of state-of-the art information and communication technologies.

Communications play a crucial role in the deployment of smart grids, requiring them to  be resistant, secure, reliable, manageable and based on standards that guarantee connectivity with other grid elements. Their key function is to gather the wide range of data available on the grid using systems for processing said data and decision-making centres to enhance the efficiency of electricity companies through optimising power generation, supply and demand.

Smart grid advantages for power suppliers

One of the challenges facing Smart Grids is the simultaneous connection of all devices generating information to processing, analysis and decision-making centres.  This requires a secure and reliable communications infrastructure capable of compiling a wide variety of data and different transmission methods to ensure a firm basis for the successful deployment of smart power grids capable of transforming business processes as expected by electricity companies.

The use of state-of-the-art information technologies in power transmission and distribution results in greater efficiency, connectivity and cost reduction and introduces electricity companies to the “Big Data” concept that revolutionises their traditional business models. This means that real time data can now be obtained on energy use patters and consumer interaction. It also enables companies to make dynamic changes to power generation, transmission and distribution to optimise generation and distribution costs and reduce energy losses.

The importance of institutional support for smart grid

Governments and regulatory bodies from all over the world are also actively promoting the use of smart grids by implementing subsidies, regulations and specific guidelines in order to reduce emissions, increase competition in energy markets and improve services offered.

The challenges of tomorrow

Adaptation of power generation and distribution grids to a Smart Grid is a challenge for “utilities”. However, Teldat has been developing REGESTA technology for Smart Grids since their initial deployment in Europe.

Francisco Guerrero: Francisco Guerrero, Telecommunications Engineer, is the Head of Teldat's Product Marketing Department.

EUTC Annual Conference

smart grid router enterpriseTogether 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.

Daniel Alvarez Wise:

Possibilities of the Smart Grid

smart grid layoutNowadays 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.

Daniel Alvarez Wise: