How distributed secure network intelligence supports DER integration

Modern, secure communication networks are the best way to prepare for increased DERs on the grid. In a recent webinar, ECI shared key insights from its experience.
Published: Wed 11 Jul 2018

With the introduction of more distributed energy resources (DERs), we see a change to the traditional utility business model. The network is transforming from a one-way directional power flow to a more distributed grid.

Historically, the focus of energy companies has been to maintain a highly reliable and stable network - a priority that is not set to change.

Generation, command and control, as well as communications networks, are set up to ensure that command-control information gets back to the centralised point in an efficient and deterministic way.

In an Engerati webinar, “Connecting DERs – distributed and secure network intelligence”, David Stokes, Senior Portfolio Marketing Manager at ECI, explained why this needs to change: “To ensure that those DERs are used in the most efficient way, we need a much more distributed command and control network allowing those resources to be turned on and off when necessary so that you don’t waste energy and just pour it onto the grid.”

Along with Marco Berger, Head of Utilities and Critical Infrastructures Vertical Solutions at ECI, we discussed the ways in which networks need to change, and explored case studies for developing distributed, secure network intelligence.

Challenges for DERs in a centralised grid

According to Stokes, DERs are predicted to account for 15% of generation by 2024 in Europe, leading to a shift in requirements on the grid.

Stokes explains, setting out his predictions for how communications networks are set to evolve in the coming years: “We start seeing a real need for secure, real-time network data, and the communications network must deliver that. We’ll see an evolution from the networks feeding that information back in today to a mix of private, wireless, powerline communications, fibre, and early in the 2020s, we will see a large amount of data being fed back to the network using 5G technologies. It’s very important to aggregate that and make sure it gets back to the right points in the network.”

The infrastructure behind these technologies is of crucial importance, therefore. Stokes elaborates: “There are going to be many device types in the network, and all of them must be able to be communicate back in a homogenous way so that the data can be used accurately by the command control system to best use it.

For Berger, this future means that centralised generation of power can no longer be the basic model of operations. He says “We are talking about a long list of new services and applications - some of them are legacy, some of them are new. For a long period of time, these will have to co-exist.”

And it’s not only technology that is changing. There are many aspects of the grid operations that are demanding the convergence of IT and operations technologies (OT), and utilities must decide if and how their communications networks evolve to support the changes.

In the webinar, Marcus Berger, Head of Utilities and Critical Infrastructures Vertical Solutions at ECI discussed the benefits of merging MPLS-TP and IT/MPLS through Elastic MPLS.

Distributed and secure network intelligence

In the face of all of this change, solutions are emerging to enable greater network security and intelligence as well as more holistic services.

The solution, Berger explained, must be holistic and multi-layer, and have an open interface to support future technologies and be secure. It should also be able to have real-time threat evaluation and response directly where the attacks occur. Any solution for tomorrow’s DER intensive grid must, therefore, be distributed and not centralised.

In the webinar, Berger discussed how ECI has approached the challenges of the DER future with its Elastic MPLS solution.

Core and IT services require a fully flexible packet network for efficient communications, which is best supported by IP multi-protocol label switching (IP/MPLS) technology, whereas mission-critical OT like SCADA and teleprotection require deterministic behaviour from the telecoms networks to operate correctly, and are best supported by MPLS Transport Profile (MPLS-TP).

ECI developed Elastic MPLS to allow operators to support both of these technologies, providing MPLS-TP and IP/MPLS on the same platform, with gateway functionality between them.

Berger believes offers the product offers the best of both worlds: “It’s a platform that’s capable of supporting all technologies. It provides you with an efficient multi service capability, and a common architecture between IT/OT and the legacy systems already deployed in the network.”

In the webinar, Marcus Berger, Head of Utilities and Critical Infrastructures Vertical Solutions at ECI detailed a case study with a Slovenian Distribution Systems Operator using Elastic MPLS.

Case studies for Elastic MPLS and DERs

In the webinar, Berger explored three key case studies demonstrating the business case for Elastic MPLS.

1] One of the biggest German energy providers, which was heavily invested in DER trend, was connecting hundreds, if not thousands of DERs on a monthly basis.

Berger explains: “It had an urgency to deliver real-time billing, demand response and balance control, too, so DERs were not its only pain-point.”

All of these elements required an extension of the network traffic engineering capabilities to ensure the required and contractual service-level agreement and quality of supply for the very far edges of the network.

Berger detailed how ECI approached the case: “One of the products we deployed for this energy provider was the NPT1010D, a unique MPLS-TP edge/FAN solution. This is capable of being installed on many of the very limiting electrical cabinets that were available nearby those DER entities such as wind farms, solar farms, hydro resources and microgrids. This device can be installed on those very challenging edges of the network and extend throughout the generation, transmission and distribution network from one point to another.”

2] A Slovenian distribution system operator (DSO) required a country-wide deployment of a complete cyber solution for the OT network.

Berger says: “This was one of the first cases where we had a proof of concept running alongside an audition process by the local regulators. It was very interesting, because we were able to identify not only backdoors and vulnerabilities, but also to identify ongoing cyberattacks against this Slovenian power utility.”

The deployment took only a few hours, because many of the cyber applications installed were embedded in ECI’s platform. Once installed in the field and substations, the deployment of the cybersecurity applications is done ‘over-the-air’ through the system without the need for a technician to go to the physical sites on the grid.”

3] A Swiss transmission and distribution systems operator (TSO/DSO), responsible for half of the country’s territory in terms of coverage and generation, required a holistic solution to support its network developments.

Berger says: “This specific power utility deployed the complete set of the Elastic MPLS approach for mission critical applications, alongside the IP/MPLS for the less critical applications running into the core of the network.”

The TSO/DSO has powerful firewalls separating the IT and OT networks, and used ECI’s solution across over 100 sites to ensure stability and security both now and in the future.

Watch the webinar

To learn more about the benefits of a ECI’s distributed network intelligence system, watch this webinar with Stokes and Berger “Connecting DERs – distributed and secure network intelligence“ on-demand now.