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EPRI evaluates communication systems used for 'black sky events'

image credit: Credit: David Wagman

Secure and reliable communication networks play a critical role in ensuring the stable and continuous operation of the bulk electric system during a natural or man-made disaster.

As part of a research study conducted last fall and released recently, the Electric Power Research Institute identified and tested five commercial off-the-shelf products for backup voice communications to fill the role of a “gap filler” system. Such a system would be capable of providing visibility into the status of the electricity grid during an emergency that interrupts the grid’s normal communications systems.

The systems included one interoperability platform and four independent, emergency communications systems. The four communications systems consisted of one geostationary (GEO) satellite system, two low-earth orbit (LEO) satellite systems and one high-frequency (HF) radio system.

PJM, Southern Company and the New York Power Authority were the primary electric industry participants. Each designated  a control center test site to temporarily install and test all five systems.

Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Hydro One, the Electricity Information Sharing and Analysis Center and the New York Independent System Operator also took part. They used a combination of existing backup communications systems and temporary installations of new technologies.

The demonstration was held in October and included several three-way conference calls among PJM, Southern Company and NYPA. Each entity made point-to-point calls with a substation, a generation facility and at least one neighboring utility or additional point of contact. EPRI monitored the calls to evaluate system performance during the calls.

The project stemmed from a recommendation by the North American Transmission Forum (NATF) Spare Tire Project and the Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council (ESCC) that named the development and implementation of resilient emergency communications capabilities as the industry’s top research, development and deployment priority.

It said the most urgent need is for a “gap filler” system that can enable adequate voice communications to provide enough visibility into the status of the grid during an emergency to begin grid restoration.

The one-day test was designed to challenge the limits of communications systems by connecting entities that would not ordinarily communicate with each other about day-to-day operations. The research question was whether a range of commercially available communication and interoperability technologies would be viable solutions if implemented in an integrated manner.

In its final report, EPRI released a handful of findings.

  • Interoperability platform. Overall, the interoperability system performed well at all the test sites, demonstrating its ability to patch through communications from multiple communications systems via its integration platform. The interoperability platform was used for all communications tests at the three core test sites during the demonstration.
  • GEO satellite. The GEO satellite system also performed "very well" overall. The system was used for two successful conference calls connecting all three core participants on the day of the demonstration and during pre-demonstration testing.
  • LEO satellite. Both LEO satellite systems experienced some challenges. LEO Satellite 1 achieved a successful three-way call among the core participants during pre-demonstration testing but was unable to connect all three on the day of the demonstration. LEO Satellite 2 was unable to achieve a three-way call among all three participants at any time. EPRI said this likely was because of an integration issue with the interoperability component. Both LEO satellites achieved point-to-point connections with "intermittent" success.
  • HF radio. The HF radio system also experienced challenges. The system successfully achieved point-to-point connections between Southern Company and PJM but failed to establish the required three-way connection, even when using the system’s remote base stations and centralized network operations center (NOC). The tested system is an operational network that had reserved the use of only one operator console in its NOC for the demonstration. If multiple NOC operator consoles had been available, the three-way connection would have likely been completed because each of the core sites was able to connect, one at a time, with the NOC.

Emergency communications systems at the PJM, Southern Company and NYPA control centers also were tested to demonstrate integration with emergency response strategies and systems.

EPRI said that Southern successfully participated in a distributed play conference call using the interoperability platform and emergency communications systems. All three participants successfully used the systems to participate in a Cyber Mutual Assistance exercise.

Test results will be used to develop recommendations for long-term implementation and use of resilient emergency communications systems, interoperability components and strategies that EPRI said would be flexible enough to accommodate a range of requirements for different utilities.

David Wagman's picture

Thank David for the Post!

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