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Grid Modernization Starts with Telecommunications

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Kathy Nelson's picture
Principal West Monroe Partners
  • Member since 2021
  • 2 items added with 4,496 views
  • Sep 30, 2021

This item is part of the LTE Networks - September 2021 SPECIAL ISSUE, click here for more

What do you think of when you hear grid modernization? Most likely you think of rooftop solar or community solar farms, wind turbines, battery storage, electric vehicles, and the like. What you probably don’t think of is telecommunications. All of the items mentioned above have one thing in common, they all need telecommunications in order to make them useful to a utility. Telecommunications underpins grid modernization.

For decades, utilities used telecommunications networks for Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) and Land Mobile Radio (LMR), which were typically either hardwired with copper leased circuits or low-speed, narrowband wireless radio frequency (RF) channels that utilities could lease inexpensively from the FCC. As utilities and technologies evolved, some utilities deployed fiber to major assets, such as substations, and began deploying smart devices on the distribution grid all the way from the substation to the residential meter. In addition, Distributed Energy Resources (DER) devices such as solar and wind became prevalent and the grid began to change. With those changes came an exponential increase in how much data was available, particularly from the grid edge which typically needed wireless communications solutions making legacy telecommunications systems of utilities’ past no longer adequate.

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For many years, utilities have been advocating to have dedicated RF spectrum in order to build reliable wireless networks using standard technologies, but this has proven to be elusive. Within the past year, utilities have been able to acquire broadband spectrum on the secondary market or in the recent Citizens Band Radio Service (CBRS) auction which allows them to build private, wireless networks using the most widely used telecommunications standard, LTE. This allows utilities to build a homogenous wireless network that can be used to communicate to all, or most of their varied devices, applications, and use cases for which multiple purpose-built networks (sometimes a dozen or more) have been built over the years. It gives them access to multiple manufacturers and provides assurance in the event a manufacturer discontinues a product line or goes out of business, which is one of the highest risks of proprietary communication networks utilities have had to use in the past.

So, what benefit does an ecosystem bring? A defined ecosystem is a way for all interested parties to participate and work towards a common good for all. It brings together manufacturers, utilities, system integrators, consultants, and others to have conversations that lead to developing the products utilities need and that are specifically designed for their more rugged environments and specific use cases. It enables conversations that bring about better solutions for utilities and allows them to learn from each other through experiences of those that have deployed LTE networks in other industries. The collective minds of a group are better than a single mind on its own.

West Monroe joined the Anterix Ecosystem Program to better partner with utilities and help advance their telecommunications strategies, roadmaps, business cases, and regulatory filings. We’ve leveraged our expertise in large program management for deployment of complex networks to help utilities go from planning stages to successful deployment.

Through this ecosystem, vendors can get input directly from utilities which provides them the opportunity to test prototype devices before they go into production. When the ecosystem is used for this reason, better products can be created that truly serve the utility industry in the best way possible.

John Benson's picture
John Benson on Oct 14, 2021

I posted a four-part series on various types of Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) over three years ago. I just added part-5 explaining want is happening and probably will happen as AMI systems evolve to newer networks. I would suggest you read parts 1-4 before reading part 5. All of these are linked below.

Kathy Nelson's picture
Thank Kathy for the Post!
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