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Will Smart Grid Advocates & Utilities Heed Lessons Learned from the Telecom Sector?

Christine Hertzog's picture
Principal Technical Leader, Cyber Security Strategic Initiative Electric Power Research Institute

Christine Hertzog is a Principal Technical Leader focused on OT Cyber Security research at EPRI.  She conducts research on new technologies suitable for OT environments and informs industry...

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The electrical grid transformation to the Smart Grid puts tremendous reliance on wired and wireless networks to deliver situational awareness of grid operations. These communications networks enhance and optimize utility management of grid operations, as demonstrated by reduced service disruption times via automated outage reporting by smart meters or voltage conservation programs that reduce operating costs.  As utilities add networks for smart meters and embed sensors and actuators in distribution and transmission lines and equipment, they acquire multiple element management systems for each new network.

These distinct “panes of glass” create new management challenges for utilities already confronting the data deluge from network and device performance.  They also reinforce siloed information models in what must become an integrated and holistic view of grid and network operations. In previous articles I have pointed out that the telecommunications sector can offer solutions and lessons learned to accelerate utility transitions from traditional grid operations to management of Smart Grids. The multiple element management systems problem is already resolved by telecommunications carriers, which manage incredibly complicated, diverse, and complex communications infrastructures. Therefore, it was heartening to note last week’s announcement from National Grid about their “energy system of the future” pilot.

Two important pilot objectives focus on increasing electric service reliability and improving response to power outages.  The pilot’s Smart Grid “dream team” includes “an end-to-end communications network monitoring and management solution” provided by GridMaven.  What makes this vendor stand out is that their core technology is in use today in SK Telecom’s network operations.  SK Telecom is the largest wireless communications service provider in South Korea with over 26 million subscribers.

According to Laura Meadors, GridMaven’s Director of Network Management, “The GridMaven Network Management solution will be used to combine relevant data from the utility’s networks to deliver integrated communications infrastructure management, unifying IT and OT information that was previously siloed.  This comprehensive manager of managers solution will help utilities increase grid reliability and resiliency, while reducing costs in their operations.”

This solution correlates, integrates and analyzes data from multiple and disparate sources to manage network performance.  Meadors explained, “One expected result from this communications infrastructure management solution is a reduction in time to identify and diagnose the root cause of network and grid events through better data inputs and the ability to correlate data across multiple networks to identify patterns.  This comes from SK Telecom’s own solutions developed in the most advanced telecom environment in the world – South Korea – and is proven with existing telecommunications customers around the world.”

Expedited root cause analysis is of interest to utilities because it has dual benefits – it not only positively impacts SAIDI and SAIFI calculations, but it also helps ensure that the appropriately skilled repair crews are dispatched with the right tools and spare parts. There are other ways that utilities could save time and money with solutions like GridMaven, such as leveraging data for predictive asset management or improving communications systems uptime.

Improving reliability and saving on operational costs are the ever-present goals of any utility.  Utilities are at the cusp of a number of new learning curves, including some that have already been climbed in the telecommunications business sector. One of those learning curves is about the challenges of managing multiple and diverse communications networks. Another is about managing change to re-invent corporate cultures, but that’s a subject for a different article.

Robust, resilient, and reliable communications networks are essential to support mission-critical power grid operations and deliver situational awareness. Utilities can learn from experiences in the telecommunications business sector and save time and money in addressing their network management challenges. Solutions like GridMaven that are proven in other 24X7 mission-critical operations are one possibility for utilities to wisely invest money and manpower.

Note: The writer manages a consulting firm with clients in the Smart Grid and M2M sectors. The views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely the writer’s own. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer, provider or party in question.

Image: Telecommunications Dishes via Shutterstock

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