Putting the ‘Smart’ into Smart Grid

The need for the change toward ‘smart’ utility services is clear. The UK’s electricity delivery system or ‘grid’ was built when energy was relatively inexpensive and, while minor upgrades have been made to meet increasing demand, it still operates the way it did almost 100 years ago. With the ever increasing demand for power, we need to move away from passive management – where we scale the network for maximum envisaged load; toward active management – where load is balanced to meet generation including an increasing amount from renewable sources.

The smart grid will need ICT to manage the significant increase in the complexity and volume of data about supply of, and demand for, power that the challenges of renewables, micro generation, granular usage metering, and two-way communications entail. Real-time information will enable utility companies to manage the entire electrical grid as a single integrated system, actively sensing and responding to changes in demand, generation, costs, and emissions – from rooftop solar panels on homes, to remote, unmanned wind farms or energy-intensive factories.

The Smart in Smart Grid
The smart grid will need telecommunications to manage the significant increase in the complexity and volume of data about the supply of and demand for power that the new energy landscape demands. Real-time information will enable utility companies to increase their outage visibility to the distribution edge, and to manage the entire electrical grid as a single integrated system.

By applying Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to the electricity system there is an opportunity to provide much more dynamic real-time information and greater interactivity between suppliers and consumers. A digital communications infrastructure is essential for integrating the intelligence needed in the electricity network for smart metering to work. This will require additional hardware such as sensors, monitors, communication devices and the meters themselves but all these technologies are just enablers.

It is the network connecting it all that is central to the smart agenda’s success, with intelligent applications providing energy and distribution management, outage visibility and enabling the move away from scheduled to predictive maintenance.

Many of the challenges of the smart grid – network interaction, maximising efficiency, second-by-second billing, real-time monitoring of systems, asset management and visibility of infrastructure down to every last node and security – have already been addressed by the telecommunications industry and should be leveraged in the development of the smart grid.

The very evolution of ICT has moved from many discrete networks, with zero or little sporadic interaction between them, to interconnected Wide Area Networks (WANs) that speak a common language and share data easily between themselves and over the Internet. This evolution demonstrates an analogy for the utility sector which will be dealing with higher and higher numbers of connections to the smart grid as legacy systems are refreshed, sharing resources and data with different and diverse origins.

Critical communications
This evolution has also meant that the ICT industry knows how to extract efficiency from its networks using multi-tenanted networks and service delivery platforms. Its ability to extend high levels of visibility and control right across the network, when translated and applied to the smart grid, will hugely improve levels of engineered efficiency. In addition, telecoms networks are ‘aware’ with individual components monitored to give visibility that allows for real-time fault detection and fast response times. This data is deeply embedded in the way ICT operates, and the use of ITIL based service management frameworks is critical for change and incident management. As a result ICT can provide better access to information about assets, whether that’s meter data or low voltage substations, which also makes more efficient use of the infrastructure.

Several meter rollouts around the world have been stopped due to real or perceived cyber security issues, resulting in delay or refresh of meter assets. We believe that both grid architecture should be ranked as Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) and deployed and managed as such.

The reason why grids should be CNI speaks for itself, but it cannot be ignored that Advanced Metering Infrastructure’s (AMIs) will become equally at risk in several years, where metering has become established as the smart grid ‘intelligent edge’ for actively managed energy grids.

One size doesn’t fit all
There are many ways of connecting to the smart grid – and each utilises different technology with different cost profiles, suitable for different population densities and different geographies. We believe the most cost-effective way to develop the smart grid is to enable the choice of best technology to fit each circumstance. As such we believe that any workable solution will have to be a hybrid one. To this end C&W Worldwide is developing its smart grid and smart metering partner ecosystem to help utilities find the right intelligence and the right applications to address their specific needs, be that renewable integration, grid optimisation or substation automation.

Smart metering and smart grid have the potential to massively reduce the UK’s carbon footprint and make the country’s energy consumption more efficient. For it to be a complete success however the right network needs to be chosen. In order to deliver on its promise, the network will need to be secure to CNI standards, capable of high availability and resiliency, low latency and high throughput smart grid services.

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