Our smart energy blind spot (cont.)

Two experts give their views on the state of the UK’s operational telecoms systems.
Published: Wed 12 Jun 2019

Last week Jane Gray reported on the key outcomes of an industry debate on the UK’s operational telecoms systems hosted by Engerati’s sister title Network in association with Nokia and Joint Radio Company. Two executives from those companies give their expert opinions below.

No smart grid without smart telecoms – by Peter Couch, chief executive, JRC

There is an immediate priority for the UK’s energy networks to secure long term access to additional radio spectrum and enable the data-rich operational telecommunications systems needed for smart grid functionality.

This is essential to enable the transition from distribution network operation to distribution system operation at a local level and support the growth of a smart, low carbon power system. In addition, it could bring even greater decarbonisation benefits to the UK by allowing more granular monitoring and control of the gas network, which will also encounter operational telecommunications challenges as the number of injection points and the range of gas products (with varying thermal properties) increase over time.

To deliver the many benefits associated with the creation of smart energy networks, operators must work closely with government and relevant regulators to ensure the appropriate policy frameworks and investment regimes are in place to enable the deployment of this enhanced operational telecoms capability. Without the appropriate policy interventions, the much-anticipated benefits of a thriving low carbon economy will not be realised.


This close working between industry, government and policy makers must establish a clear understanding of the specific requirements that smart energy utilities will have of their future operational telecoms solutions. For example, the wide geographic distribution of the energy networks assets, alongside the need to access remote fixed assets reliably and consistently – typically using low power equipment – means that spectrum allocation in the Ultra High Frequency (UHF) band [300 MHz to 3 GHz] is preferable.

Furthermore, spectrum in this UHF band would be the most cost-effective choice for smart grid applications, since today’s network operators already have existing assets making use of this frequency range.

Alongside the efforts of government and regulators to deliver the spectrum access smart utilities need, it is also important that energy network operators play their part by working together to establish a standardised approach to technology deployment and operations which can allow the benefits of enhanced telecommunications capabilities to be applied to the whole UK energy system in an efficient and cost effective manner.

Fundamentally you can’t have smart networks without enhanced communications capability.

Smart grid telecoms and 5G – by Nigel Nawacki, utilities chief technology officer, Nokia UK & Ireland

There has recently been a flurry of national interest and controversy around the impending rollout of 5G communications in the UK. This development is clearly relevant and important for the UK’s smart energy future. However, it’s important to understand that the arrival of 5G will not be a panacea to the current obstacles with operational telecommunications modernisation.  Indeed, most of the communications capability inherent in 5G technology exists today and will develop as a continuum.

This is important in the light of current industry debate around the immediate need for spectrum allocation for smart grid operations. Releasing spectrum today in the UHF band would not be an interim measure only to be ripped and replaced once 5G enablement arrives.

Spectrum enablement with suitable UHF alignment in systems such as 4G  LTE will be embraced and enhanced by 5G, not displaced.

Consider, for example, the following five important and urgent smart network operation requirements – all of which would be immediately enabled by release of suitable spectrum for smart grid applications and enhanced in the 5G aspirations.

Security: UHF spectrum allocation would support growth of private mobile (LTE) networks which can support pervasive and predictable connectivity to secondary substations. This is essential for resilient day to day smart network operations but is also a core requirement for a reliable black start scenario. 5G would incorporate existing 4G capabilities here end provide enhanced monitoring.

Flexibility and diversity: Advanced 4G technology can already support higher levels of secure, encrypted grid automation with reliance on “grid edge” system participants – i.e. high levels of participation from distributed energy resources. We do not need to wait for 5G to enable this.

Operational efficiency: Smart networks will increasingly need to leverage new operational technologies to deliver new, innovative services at least cost to the consumer. Spectrum allocation would enable greater use of SD-WAN services within the foundations of network operational technology systems. These services will be key to unlocking the potential of the Internet of Things for energy networks, supporting network virtualisation and optimising the use of smart field technologies like augmented reality and drones.

New business models: Spectrum allocation would accelerate to market the potential of the advanced analytics and artificial intelligence applications networks need in order to build new (DSO) business models. Networks need to build much more complex and advanced transacting capabilities and achieve distributed real-time data processing across their networks.

In conclusion, enabling spectrum for grid automation today would be a small step that would create a tipping point for the innovation and smart capability that all licensed network operators are currently seeking. Waiting for an organic evolution in operational telecommunications technology to provide this tipping point is not an option.  We cannot be seen as a laggard on the world smart grid telecoms arena.