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Grid of the Future: Overcoming Today’s Challenges, Setting Foundation for Tomorrow

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

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For more than fifty years, Moore’s Law has successfully mapped the constant evolution of technology.  In “Cramming More Components onto Integrated Circuits,” written in 1965, Gordon Moore predicted that we would realize “such wonders as home computers — or at least terminals connected to a central computer — automatic controls for automobiles, and personal portable communications equipment.” He was right, and, for decades, the technology industry has led our economy. We have realized all the benefits he forecasted and more, while also facing complications and challenges none of us could anticipate. As it attempts to move technologically forward, the utility sector is not exempt from these challenges. The ideas offered by the authors in this special issue reflect their deep understanding of those challenges, as well as the growing needs facing the sector, as they work to deliver on the promise of the modernized grid and ensure uninterrupted access to energy from coast-to-coast.

As this Hot Topic: “Visioneering the Private Networked Grid of the Future:

How Do You See Private LTE Networks Shaping the Future of Utilities?” issue highlights, ensuring uninterrupted access to energy nationwide during a time of great transformation demands new approaches.  An increased focus on microgrids, distributed energy, data, sensors, renewables and more, combined with the need to serve customers in the ways they want to connect with their utilities, demands new approaches. Keeping the grid secure from threats unimaginable more than a decade ago demands new approaches. And, ensuring that that the networks of today are moving toward interoperability and scalability to support the pressing needs of tomorrow demands new approaches. All of these planned developments are informed by a range of complexities born of the utility sector’s technological evolution, or lack thereof, including:

  • the inability to support new approaches with legacy, and at times proprietary, systems,
  • a disconnect or incompatibility of point solutions and networks, and, perhaps most importantly,
  • the proliferation of the internet, the inherent vulnerabilities that exist when connected to it, and the never-ending battle to protect connected assets from cyber incursions on an attack surface that is ever-expanding.

As other contributors will share, we are on the cusp of realizing the vision of a grid and utility “of the future.” A key element of that future grid must be a broadband communications network that is up to the challenges. At the heart of many future opportunities, lies the escalating importance of connectivity and control. An investment in private broadband networks can support the needed technological evolution and support the utility’s need to scale and enhance interoperability. These networks can support the modernization of critical infrastructure, provide a more secure grid in an era of increasing cybersecurity concerns and improve reliability and resiliency. They also can enable the integration of distributed resources and increased sensor usage that make utility operations safer and more efficient, ultimately improving the interoperability of utilities to improve coordination and communications during times of disruption.

In addition, by deploying a private LTE (PLTE) wireless broadband network on low-band 900 MHz licensed spectrum, utility customers gain control over their critical connectivity capability on a standards-based platform that provides future scalability, while offering deep coverage, ample capacity and cost efficiency. These networks can help utilities meet the demands created by the challenges and opportunities facing the industry by offering:

Enhanced Cyber Security – Utilities are barraged by increasingly sophisticated cyber threats. They can benefit from collectively developing effective mechanisms to help discover, prevent and recover from security incidents. LTE is a worldwide standard and enjoys highly advanced features. A utility that deploys a PLTE wireless network, supported by licensed spectrum, has fewer points of entry compared to commercial wireless networks. And, importantly, a utility managing the PLTE network for its own operations and communications has the option to completely disconnect from the public internet (either permanently or temporarily) to provide an even higher level of protection from cyberattacks and scrutinize all traffic moving between its systems and end points.

Improved Reliability, Resiliency and Customer Satisfaction – A PLTE network enables faster and more accurate grid information, as well as enhanced visibility and improved control across the electric grid during a major disruption. When designed specifically for critical utility needs, and with added private control, a PLTE can ensure that the focus of the network, always, is on the utility.  These capabilities help the utility to react more quickly to line outages, downed poles and failing inverters or transformers. They also can help to increase the ability to provide reliable delivery of electricity to customers and increase the ability to withstand, survive and recover from weather-related outages, natural disasters, cyberattacks and other disruptive events.

Integrated Distributed Resources – Management of solar, wind, hydropower, fuel cells and other DER is one of the urgent opportunities facing the electric grid. Dynamic changes to the traditional uni-directional flow of energy in the grid creates a new complexity for utility operators to securely and reliably ensure their integration to the grid. PLTE networks can help utilities to view and adjust grid transmission and distribution systems when integrating these distributed resources. Additionally, the more reliable and more secure two-way communication capabilities of a PLTE network allow development of next-generation utility applications to provide even greater control over the management, integration and energy flow from DER.

Robust Device Ecosystem – Private networks on 900 MHz licensed spectrum already are within a globally defined LTE standard band and offer the benefits of an existing mature 4G technology and equipment ecosystem with an evolutionary path to 5G. As the industry adopts PLTE, that utility-specific device and application ecosystem will grow. By building these foundational, long-term connectivity strategies on a lasting and proven global, standards-based technology, utilities not only will benefit from the breadth and depths of many years of technology development today, but also are assured to have continued innovation and investment by the large ecosystem of suppliers throughout the full life of this important networking investment.

Improved Safety of Utility Personnel – Improved communications between utility stations, equipment and personnel can help to increase operational safety and lower personnel exposure to potential risks. With PLTE networks, when a failure occurs on the grid, IoT technology still can reliably relay data about the issue so the utility crews can respond quickly and efficiently. It also can be used to track crew members to ensure their safety during dangerous operations.  

Enhanced Interoperability – As the complexity and interconnectedness of modern critical infrastructure increases and the threat landscape evolves, it becomes paramount for utilities to be able to cooperate and communicate during periods of disruption. PLTE networks on 900 MHz licensed spectrum can provide an ideal platform for utilities to control and protect their own systems, while allowing greater mutual aid collaboration and communications when it is most needed and without increasing vulnerabilities.

Optimized Smart Grid Applications – Technologies, such as fault protection, dynamic voltage control, automated reclosers and advanced sensing and measurement can only be optimized if the utility has the ability to see, manage and collect data from these “smart” devices. That requires a robust wireless broadband platform across the service territory. PLTE networks help to provide the transparency and functionality necessary to maximize these smart investments.

Along with helping utilities meet the demands listed – and others shared by the authors who contributed to this publication – PLTE networks can help bridge the digital divide. Investments in PLTE networks require the same physical infrastructure — towers, antennas, backhaul fiber and electricity — used to deploy broadband into communities lacking adequate broadband access.

While Gordon Moore was ahead of his time, even he had not predicted much of the technological advancement we have experienced. Luckily, our industry has countless visionaries planning for the future who have the added benefit of understanding the challenges faced today.

Regardless of what is “visioneered” for the grid of the future, it is clear the utility industry is ready to move forward to create better networks that will serve their business and their customers better today and tomorrow.  

The time is now for the industry to come together to continue the conversation about a better future for the grid. Share your thoughts on the topic with the Forum.

 

Rob Schwartz is President and Chief Executive Officer of Anterix, a company focused on delivering transformative private LTE broadband that enables the modernization of the energy and critical infrastructure sectors.

 

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Thank Robert for the Post!

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Anterix
Anterix is modernizing utility communications through Private LTE. Anterix is architecting a new foundation for utilities that will enable the modernization of their critical infrastructures to a whole new standard.

Discussions

Julian Jackson's picture
Julian Jackson on Aug 28, 2020 2:57 pm GMT

That is an interesting post. I certainly think that security, integration of distributed resources and interactions with smart devices will be crucial in upgrading the grid. 

Also, although this is far from a core activity for utilities, the pandemic has highlighted vulnerabilities of citizens. I can forsee a situation where a smart device in the home registers an anomaly (for example a senior citizen having a fall and smashing a light fitting) and an alert being flagged up via LTE to call a first responder. 

There will be quite a few synergies opened up through the IoT, I think,

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