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5G and the Energy Grid

image credit: Verizon

In terms of futuristic-sounding developments in tech that will impact consumers of all kinds outside of the energy, getting the telecommunications network to the next level of 5G has long been hyped as the next big thing. However, I had not realized myself just how tied to utilities and the grid that these developments could be until I read this release from Verizon on 'How 5G can supercharge the electrical grid' from earlier this month. 

Some key passages in this release include the following nuggets:

The energy sector is among the most significant test cases for 5G-enabling technologies, a complex industry with diverse requirements across a variety of application areas. While electricity users may not consider all those implications every time they switch on the lights or plug a charger into a wall socket, there’s no denying that the demands on the grid are evolving. And the next-generation energy grid will need to be smarter at every point of distribution and consumption.... 


 The current electrical grid is more than 100 years old, designed to accommodate simpler energy needs and more localized power generation. It also was designed to be one-directional—i.e., the power company sends some voltage your way, then sends you a bill. But today’s grid is defined by a more complex, two-way exchange.
“The grid is evolving to accommodate macro trends, including a greater use of renewable energy, which also comes with a greater use of storage,” explains Sean Harrington, Verizon’s VP of City Solutions. “It’s more bidirectional, and it was not originally set up to be that way.”...

Because the demands of the grid aren’t uniform and different areas and applications have different power requirements, a particularly useful feature that 5G networks will eventually introduce is the ability to perform network “slicing.”
This process creates independently calibrated and customizable networks over the same physical infrastructure. Slicing allows industries to operate their networks at different scales and address unique and diverse customer needs. Especially as utilities work to integrate distributed (i.e., wind, solar) power supplies into the grid, they’ll need millisecond-level precise load control—a clear use case for 5G connectivity. Aspects of the grid that don’t require such precise control and management can continue sending and receiving data over existing 4G network infrastructure. 

Image result for 5g verizon

Some very interesting ideas in this article, but because it was coming from Verizon themselves, I was immediately curious how non-invested outlets were covering the 5G/grid possibilities.

First, I came across this article from Forbes that touted 5G as the holy grail for telecom but the source of much anxiety in the energy sector. Specifically, this author notes that "energy groups are warning regulators that a 5G rollout without securing adequate bandwidth for the sector could cause major harm to the nation's electric grid and critical infrastructure." The specific areas of interest where these concerns have arisen and even been a part of conversations at FERC include disaster recovery and the interdependency of telecom and electric sector operations, but these discussions appear to have not occurred among other chief regulators. 

Wireless communication network concept.Panorama of Modern City

Another insight into how 5G could affect utilities comes from this post on Engerati that spells out how the push towards 5G "comes at just the right juncture to enable its ongoing evolution to meet emerging challenges of smarter cities, communities, and citizens." Considerations that this author brought up included how 5G could provide greater ability for dynamic pricing, two-way communication, managing of EV charging to minimize peak load, smart street lighting, and more.


So, which do you think 5G will be for the power utilities-- immense challenge or bringer of great opportunity?


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