Communication in the smart grid - Enable IoT for all types of utility assets

Multi-services gateways are critical components for the digitalization of power grids and cities.
Published: Tue 28 Jun 2016

The number of devices becoming connected is growing rapidly – estimated to reach 50 billion globally by 2020, according to Cisco – which is demanding special consideration be given to the underlying network, communication and data requirements.

Many of these are already being demonstrated by the utility sector, which, with its smart grid activities, is very much at the forefront of the Internet of Things revolution. Among them is interoperability of devices and the need for near real-time, dynamic management of the network and a growing variety of applications such as integration of distributed generation and responding to growing consumer demand on control on energy use and the ability to participate in the energy eco-system as prosumers. [Engerati-The Internet Of Things Will Transform Utilities]

Knock down system silos

Traditionally, data has been generated and managed by disparate systems. Taking the longevity of utility assets into account, systems may well become outdated and unusable, resulting in high operating costs and eventually stranded assets.

Standard communication protocols and horizontal architectures avoid system barriers and reduce the cost of implementation and operation. Tailoring use cases, taking specific latency and bandwidth requirements into account, potentially minimizes communication costs.

Additionally, utilities can avoid vendor lock-in, enhance network visibility and extend the usable lifetime of assets.

Multi-service gateways

With its background as a telecommunications provider, and learning from best practices, the optimum approach to IoT implementation is one that emphasizes system-wide common architectures, according to Ericsson.

“An approach that facilitates pushing data collection, analysis and application out to the edge of the grid while leveraging multiple communications technologies will maximize value by reducing the cost of implementation. It will also deliver network visibility and control, provide support for new applications and technology through a flexible foundation, incorporating and extending the value of legacy assets,” explains Regis Hourdouillie, Global Head of Smart Grid, Utilities at Ericsson.

Central to this approach is the multi-services gateway, which comprises both hardware and software to offer choice of communications interfaces to enable multiple distribution grid applications, in parallel, on a single common infrastructure model, managed by a dedicated element management system.

“We call these devices ‘Smart Grid Nodes’, which provide the physical control, logical and telecommunications hub (access points) for the distribution grid,” explains Hourdouillie.

Standards and features of Smart Grid Nodes

Smart Grid Nodes have some basic characteristics. Besides being standards based in order to promote interoperability and vendor choice, they:

  • Enable secure two-way, near real-time communication, providing data entry and control points anywhere on a distribution system.

  • Can host and/or integrate developed applications and are remotely upgradable

  • Follow 3GPP standards-based versions connect to the available cellular network (4G, 3G or 2G)

  • Utilize GPS to provide location of grid assets.

Legacy interoperability and connectivity

Interoperability and legacy asset inclusion are facilitated by protocol support and conversion. Interoperability between systems provides the means to leverage data from multiple sources to better effect both centrally and at the edge of the grid.

For connectivity, the Smart Grid Nodes can support a variety of standard wired and wireless interfaces, such as serial, Ethernet, RF, Wi-Fi, cellular utilizing multiple wireless carriers, and PLC technology. The modular nature of the nodes facilitates the addition of other standards-based communications technologies as they evolve.

Platform to operate, manage and report

On top of the hub is the management software platform for multiple applications, which manages the communications network of these multi-purpose gateways between utility IoT devices and the existing back-office systems. The use of Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) ensures a standards-based approach to the solution, which may be hosted either on internal servers or in the cloud.

“The element management system is the “glue” that binds the diverse utility IoT application areas and makes possible the reduction in network complexity,” says Hourdouillie. “It can monitor and manage tasks, manage distribution of software upgrades to the nodes and other downstream devices and it provides secure tools for data reporting.”

In addition, it supports multiple levels of scaling and can be integrated with other utility operational systems through standard protocol interfaces.

Case: US Smart Grid Node implementation

Smart Grid Nodes have been implemented as part of a smart grid project at a major US utility. [Engerati-Duke Energy Microgrid Proves Interoperability]

The Smart Grid Node has enabled multiple services and connectivity to grid monitoring (MV line sensors) and control assets (capacitor banks, voltage regulators). By providing a common aggregation point for residential electric and gas smart metering, it has enabled improvements in outage detection and restoration, integrated streetlight control, weather sensors and serial devices for distribution automation.

Building on this project, the latest development work undertaken by utilities in the US continues to move away from the traditional centralized proprietary systems and towards support of distributed intelligence, interoperability and utility IoT. These concepts are being enabled through the OpenFMB (Open Field Message Bus), which has been demonstrated by Duke Energy through its Coalition of the Willing, of which Ericsson is a member.

Further reading

This article is based on a paper originally written for the CIRED conference in Helsinki, June 2016:

Ericsson: How multi-services gateways enable IoT for utilities

Shaping a new utility battleground in the era of IoT: “Utilities are currently among the largest IoT spenders. According to IDC's estimates, they will be the third-largest industry by expenditure in IoT products and services 2016":

IDC Energy Insights: Shaping a new utility battleground in the era of IoT

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