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Private Broadband is the Foundation of the Utility of the Future

image credit: © Kheng Guan Toh | Dreamstime.com

This item is part of the LTE Networks - Special Issue - 08/2020, click here for more

Today’s utilities are facing increasingly complex operational and environmental challenges: monitoring widespread and diverse areas of operation, keeping pace with energy consumption, preparing for more frequent and severe weather events, and dealing with cybersecurity threats. The solutions that address these and other challenges depend on the reliable and efficient flow of actionable information and communications across disparate systems and workgroups. Private broadband networks offer utilities the robust mission-critical data infrastructure needed for greater operational efficiency, the ongoing modernization of the electrical grid and the dependable and secure delivery of service. As intelligent devices approach the edge and are densified across the grid, utilities need an advanced wireless network that goes beyond supporting the next-generation of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) devices that traditional field area networks (FANs) support today.

Utility modernization efforts focus on the integration of large shares of renewable energy, improvements in the reliability of services and the achievement of higher levels of energy efficiency across more automated grid assets. Both the “soft” and “hard” components of utility infrastructure need to be modernized to enable the integration of renewable energy resources, facilitate more active consumer participation and improve the quality of services and the resiliency of grids. The soft components relate to human operational rules, IT/OT convergence and policy regulations. The hard components involve the grid infrastructure itself and the introduction of ever-evolving control and communication technologies. Utility-grade broadband over licensed 900 MHz spectrum is available today, along with a host of proven technologies to enable the “grid of the future,” needed updates, timely data acquisition and smarter control efforts.

Private long-term evolution (LTE) networks are not only currently desired broadband, but also the foundation for next-generation networks. Among private LTE's benefits are the capacity and latency required for near real-time data access that utilities require to manage two-way power delivery autonomously. LTE supports a protocol that prioritizes traffic, allowing utilities to share a pipe among various devices and enable dynamic traffic engineering based on application requirements. In other words, one network supports many applications. Laying the foundation now better prepares utilities for distribution intelligence and modernization over the long term.

Private LTE networks offer greater cybersecurity and control than public networks, so utilities can confidently deploy advanced automation and monitoring across their entire operational infrastructure. With private LTE, a utility has full control over where to deploy communications infrastructure, how much coverage and capacity is needed, and which applications need priority access. Network capabilities are driven entirely by the needs of the utility and its specific technology requirements. Cybersecurity requirements, monitoring, testing and incident response are likewise driven by utilities, who establish their own best practices and procedures. With many utilities already operating their own land-mobile radio (LMR) networks, they already have sites and backhaul that can be reused, making it simpler to deploy, harden and secure private LTE infrastructure. As such, private LTE networks provide the foundation for sophisticated SCADA, video and data analytics for software applications that provide machine-to-machine communication, remote monitoring, enhanced situational awareness and the capacity for rapid intelligent responses.

One of the most visible applications of private LTE is its potential to support technologies that help address the threat posed to critical utility infrastructure by severe natural disasters, such as wildfires, hurricanes, superstorms and intense blizzards. These networks offer a reliable, redundant and secure pipeline for critical information that will remain operational in the most stressed environments, even when public networks do not. Private LTE supports the large-scale deployment of fault sensors across the power grid that help utilities to monitor the impact of outage in real-time during disasters. Knowing the precise location of faults allows personnel or automated devices to isolate them and reroute power, helping to minimize the number of customers impacted and informing restoration.

Other key utility use cases for private LTE center around demand response and sophisticated integration of renewable energy. The enhanced capacity and low latency of private LTE enables use cases such as dynamic Volt/VAR management.  In this way, private LTE delivers improved operational efficiency (reduced losses, lower energy consumption, etc.), reduced electrical demand during peak load periods, better overall service reliability and ability to accommodate additional distributed generating resources, such as solar and wind, without adversely impacting overall power quality.

Private LTE can help improve the operation of the invisible infrastructure underlying utility applications. Not only can it enhance the protection of critical infrastructure, but it can also support future smart devices and intelligent applications. Private LTE networks offer the data speeds, technical flexibility, data prioritization and security necessary for the multitude of future grid applications. Its flexibility, scalability, security and resiliency make private LTE the most logical communications technology to take utilities into the future.

Scott Schoepel's picture

Thank Scott for the Post!

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