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Podcast Special Edition: "Utility Private LTE Networks" with Gil Quiniones of NYPA and Rob Schwartz of Anterix - [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast]

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The ‘Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast’ features conversations with thought leaders in the utility sector. Each two weeks we’ll connect with an Energy Central Power Industry Network...

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  • Nov 5, 2020 12:30 pm GMT
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Collective utility action to deploy private networks will drive increasing value from the network of networks effect. Private broadband networks are becoming critical infrastructure for Utility Industry modernization efforts today and will be even more important in the future. Private LTE networks offer utilities ownership, greater control and security with a network that can operate outside of public domain. This enormous change opens the door for utilities to broaden their vision and collectively envision how their PLTE networks can become the foundation for a nationwide interconnected network of PLTE networks that protects and enhances the future digital grid. Industry standardization around technology and functionality will provide innovation at scale to maximize the value of these mission critical strategic investments.

In this episode of the Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Podcast, Host Jason Price will be joined by Gil C. Quiniones, President and CEO of NY Power Authority (NYPA), and Rob Schwartz, President and CEO of Anterix, to discuss PLTE networks as a key enabler of the end to end digital utility. They also will explore the significant power and benefit the utility sector could experience by moving forward with collective action that would maximize value through interoperability and economies of scale and scope. Forward-thinking companies like NYPA already are investing in LTE platforms as part of its next generation digital transformation effort. Anterix is committed to enabling private broadband for utilities with its 900 MHz spectrum.

A special thanks to Anterix for supporting this edition of the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast.

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Key Links
Gil Quiniones’s Energy Central Profile: energycentral.com/member/profile/40449

“Communications is a fundamental issue”: NYPA’s Gil Quiniones on Its LTE Network Deployment: https://energycentral.com/c/iu/%E2%80%9Ccommunications-fundamental-issue%E2%80%9D-nypa%E2%80%99s-gil-quiniones-its-lte-network

Rob Schwartz’s Energy Central Profile: energycentral.com/member/profile/257941

Grid of the Future: Overcoming Today’s Challenges, Setting Foundation for Tomorrow: https://energycentral.com/o/anterix/grid-future-overcoming-today%E2%80%99s-challenges-setting-foundation-tomorrow

TRANSCRIPT

Jason Price:

Hello and welcome to a special episode of Energy Central's Power Perspectives Podcast, the program where we bring you hot topics from the energy and utility industry, as told by the leader's chart and the industry's path into the future. I'm Jason Price of West Monroe and Energy Central Community Ambassador and host of the podcast based in New York City. Joining me all the way from Orlando, Florida, is Matt Chester, Energy Central's Community Manager, and the producer of this podcast. Today's episode is our second installment in the Power Perspectives Leadership series, where we bring utility CEOs into the podcast booth. In fact, these two gentlemen are giants reinventing the utility of the future in operations and communications. Matt, would you agree that if Thomas Edison were alive today, he would have our guests on speed dial?

Matt Chester:

I think they'd be in the inner circle for sure, and I'd love to be a fly-on-the-wall for those conversations.

Jason Price:

Today, we're diving headfirst into the topic of utility private LTE networks, an area that's rapidly coming into focus for utility executives across the country. The power industry has long sought to prioritize a resilient and secure grid. And according to today's guest, the collective action of utilities to deploy private networks is quickly becoming a cornerstone towards any modernized grid infrastructure. This episode is a special one because we have not one but two experts on the topic of private LTE for utilities. First, I want to welcome Gil Quiniones, the President and CEO of the New York Power Authority or NYPA. Gil is known to be one of the more visible and active executives we have in this industry and so we're thrilled to bring his expertise to our podcast listeners. In addition to his role developing and implementing the public power vision across New York State, Gil also serves as the co-chair of the New York Energy Highway Task Force. And he's been an Energy Central member for the better part of a decade. Gil Quiniones thank you so much for joining us today.

Gil Quiniones: 

Glad to be with you, and I look forward to our discussion.

Jason Price:

And the reason Gil is here to chat with us today is because he's overseeing the implementation of an LTE platform across the digital utility efforts at NYPA. For this massive undertaking, NYPA brought in Anterix to enable private broadband for NYPA's operations. A project of unprecedented scale, and for what we've heard, a major success. So to help fill in the details from Anterix's side, we are also joined by Rob Schwartz, the President and CEO of Anterix. Rob is a more recent member of the Energy Central Community, but he recently created some buzz, submitting an insightful post on how we can overcome today's challenges and bridge the gap to the grid of the future. Rob Schwartz, welcome to The Power Perspectives.

Rob Schwartz:

Thanks, Jason and thanks, Matt. Really a pleasure to be here and to be here with Energy Central. And very excited to be here with Gil really being an industry innovator, thought leader. I'm looking forward to our discussion.

Jason Price:

Fantastic. And we're thrilled to have you here. So let's get right to it. So before we start, though, let's recognize Anterix. Anterix has also made this episode possible today. So we want to thank you for making this happen and helping to guide us on this critical topic. Given that, let's dive in with you, Rob. First, the interest in private wireless broadband networks by utilities is growing, as you've seen first-hand. What are the catalysts you're seeing driving this interest? And perhaps you can start by giving a quick background for our listeners not familiar with the need for private LTE and the FCC rulings that pave the way for these types of projects.

Rob Schwartz:

Absolutely. So a couple of key points. One is, as far as the demand side for broadband networks and explicitly private broadband networks, as you know, utilities have been really the thought leaders in using private networks for their requirements over decades. And because those are such specific and highly valuable use cases, the need to have a level of control and security of deploying private networks has always been part of the fabric of utilities. With private broadband, we're really talking about the next level of technology innovation. And so the use cases that we're seeing collectively of what's happening with grid modernization to address decarbonization and distributed energy resources, including renewables, what's happening with the need for sensors, for awareness command to control throughout the utility's footprint growing massively, and then obviously with the growing cybersecurity concerns, the need to have a level of awareness and control and separation of networks, given all the incidents that have happened and predictions of risks of future occurrences, all of that, when you wrap that up, along with the growing list of use cases, the innovations that are occurring, many of which are coming from leaders like NYPA, really drives towards the need for a private broadband network. And that's really what we want to talk about today.

Rob Schwartz:

At Anterix, we've been focused on bringing the spectrum element, the low-band spectrum, which is really the foundational piece of any wireless network. If you looked at any commercial network around the globe, they all started with a foundational low-band spectrum which allows you to have broad coverage and for utilities that have state-wide or multi-state even territories. It's essential to have that low-band, low-cost spectrum to provide for private LTE. So we petitioned the FCC, now over five years ago, to enable us to take the spectrum that we own nationwide, to turn it into broadband spectrum, to be able to enable utilities. Importantly, to build, own, and operate their own private broadband networks for all of their own customized needs. And so that's where we see the excitement, and that's where Anterix is focused on working with companies like NYPA. As we announced last week through our pilot that we're doing with 900-megahertz, we're very excited to be moving forward with them and a handful of other utilities now in some of these early deployments.

Jason Price:

Gil at NYPA you obviously prioritize this type of network. Do you agree with Rob's assessment? Can you talk specifically about how private wireless broadband fits into NYPA plans? And specifically, the Vision 2020 plan?

Gil Quiniones: 

Yes. And the soon to be released Vision 2030 plan. Like what Rob said, back in 2013, 2012, we saw the megatrends of decarbonization, decentralization, and digitization in our industry. And so at that time, we decided to embark on a digital transformation journey at the Power Authority. And what that meant was we wanted to be the first end-to-end digital utility. We needed to put the customer at the center of that transformation, but also digitize from the inside out. We'd been installing sensors. We're currently building a fiber backbone on top of our transmission line call optical ground wire network. And the truth is that there will be distributed sensors and intelligence on our assets, but also with our workers and our customers. And there's a need to bring that together, all those data points streaming, and be able to bring it either to our premise or to the cloud so that we can do data analytics, and later on, apply more intelligent approaches like artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Gil Quiniones:

And so we are a state-wide utility. We have decided first to pilot in one of our power plants in the middle of our state. It's called Blenheim–Gilboa. A pump hydro project. It's a large pump hydro. It's about 1,200 megawatts. And in that area, we will be piloting a private wireless network, in partnership with Anterix's, but also trying a couple of other technologies. One from Omega Wireless at the 600-megahertz spectrum and also AT&T on their first network for redundancy reasons. Now, the reason why we're looking at various types of network and spectrum is that there are going to be different use cases along the way. But we are excited in our partnership with Anterixs and we look forward to having a successful pilot because our intent really is to deploy this as quickly as possible state-wide and in conjunction with our fiber backbone or backhaul system, that we will now have the ability to stream information 24-7, 365 to help in our asset management, to predict asset health for our facilities, and to help optimize the energy usage of our customers. So they're very excited.

Jason Price:

Okay. Well, let's take this a step further, Gil. Having read your recent interview for Energy Central in our special issue entitled Visioneering the Private Networked Grid of the Future, you noted that creating resilient, redundant communication systems is a necessity for utilities. Can you elaborate on that for our listeners?

Gil Quiniones:

Yes. Electricity is like the oxygen of our economy. Without electricity, the economy really cannot function. And we've seen that from time to time, right? The Superstorm Sandy. When we had that here in New York back in 2012, we were out of power for 16 days in many of the places downstate and we saw the impact of that. So reliable and resilient electric service is a must. Now, to have a reliable and resilient electric service, we need resilient communications to make that happen. And having a network that utilities can rely on, both in blue sky and black sky conditions really will give utilities and its customers' confidence in continuing that safe, reliable, resilient service that our communities require and that our economies need.

Jason Price:

Let's send it back over to Rob. Why, in your view, should utilities consider private wireless broadband networks as critical infrastructure in their modernization efforts?

Rob Schwartz:

I think there's a couple of ways to approach that. One is, as I mentioned earlier, the important recognition of the evolution of technology. Communications networks, historically, there are a lot of disparate technologies for disparate use cases. No different than the phones we carry in our pockets, we used to have flashlights and record players and CD players and tape recorders. All those devices and use cases have consolidated into the single smartphones that we carry around. And for the utility industry, there's an opportunity to leapfrog even that technology of saying, "Today, there are--" and we work with utilities that have a dozen-plus different disparate and often legacy communications networks that each support individual historical use cases. But now the availability of LTE as a technology-- and it's worth noting that LTE is the global standard that every major wireless carrier on the globe utilizes. And because of the gravitation for the technology, you have amazing economies of scale that you have lots of choice of vendors that make the equipment and also that make the endpoints. We think of it as the handsets that we carry the phones, but it's really also all the fixed wireless sensors and devices that are deployed, as Gil talked about, throughout a network. And so standardizing around LTE makes a lot of sense to join in that cost and development curve that's really already been adopted around the globe.

Rob Schwartz:

And then the other element really is private and why private verses commercial. That's an argument that a lot of utilities have made to us already. As I said, a lot of utilities have learned through experience that the need to be able to deploy the communications networks where they need it and often in places where there may not be commercial coverage. And that could be where transmission lines intentionally go where there aren't people or where substations or other elements. But also, because it provides the level of control and security that are so essential in these [mission critical?] communications. As Gil said, and we completely agree, it is the oxygen of our society of supporting the electrical network. And as history has shown through various manmade or natural disasters that have occurred, the ability for those networks to be resilient often relies on the underlying communications network to be able to assess what's happened and the speed at which it can bounce back. And so having the control of those networks is essential.

Rob Schwartz:

And the use cases that it supports, just to restate, I think is really important. What's happening with the need for elements of distributed energy generation is essential to be interconnected. We're working on a project. We've gone through a pilot with the Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Lab, and we're doing that with a group of utilities, seven different utilities, as an industry oversight and specifically focusing on that. That as you start having more and more distributed energy sources, the need for communications, for the integration of some of those sources, often intermittent sources like solar and wind, becomes even greater. And so having a very low latency, meaning very little delay between the time when a sensor sends a signal and it's received, and even more important, its decisioned upon, right? Using things like what Gil talked about with AI and machine learning. Those centralized capabilities are only as good as the speed at which you're able to react. And having a low latency private LTE network enables a lot of those elements as well.

Jason Price:

Absolutely. There are certainly a significant amount of opportunities, newly made possible once private LTE for utilities in place. Gil, I saw you announced NYPA will be testing private LTE network solutions for energy metering and inspection drones, for example. Care to tease out any other potential use cases you've identified in the future at NYPA?

Gil Quiniones:

Sure, and thank you for asking. Right now, we're streaming about 55, 60 thousand sensor points that we have deployed in our power plant substations and transmission system and our customer buildings, primarily state-owned buildings and city buildings across New York. And we're doing asset management use cases. We're doing energy efficiency, energy optimization type use cases. In this particular pilot of private LTE, we're going to be looking at, how do we operate drones safely to monitor and inspect NYPAs assets, both generation and transmission? Workforce mobility, what we call our digital worker program. We want to put and push intelligence at the edge and at the hands of our employees so that they can make smart decisions out in the field. Secure communications for emergency management. Very, very important as we can see during this COVID-19 pandemic. Voice over LTE, Wi-Fi telephony, push-to-talk applications. All of those we're going to try. You mentioned metering services and analytics of our customers' energy consumption and trying to digitize the energy systems of our customers and create, basically, connected and flexible buildings that can interact with the local distribution grid.

Gil Quiniones:

Data transport to support NYPA's energy efficiency initiatives at customer locations and doing analytics and optimization. Smart city applications. We're in the process of replacing all the streetlights in our state. Our initial target is 500,000 streetlights of the total of about 1.4 million streetlights in New York. And there's an opportunity not just to upgrade those streetlights with smart LED lighting fixtures that save a lot of money and save a lot of maintenance, but also install sensors at strategic locations of those light poles and light fixtures to deploy smart city application, whether they are, snow and ice detection sensors, air quality sensors, traffic flow sensors, security cameras, etc. Things that can help optimize the operations of city agencies and cities that we deal with and our NYPAs customers. So there are a lot of applications that we are going to be testing. A lot of applications probably that are going to come up as we start testing this and deploying it. So we're really, really excited to partner with Anterix and others in this pilot. We can't wait to come back to you again on a follow-up to this podcast and tell you the results of that pilot.

Jason Price:

That's great. And certainly, a great recognition for my home state. So good to hear Gil. Gil, staying with you for a moment. What about when it comes to the new normal challenges facing utilities, from cybersecurity, to integrating DERs, to overall resilience? How does NYPAs private LTE network help overcome these hurdles?

Gil Quiniones:

Well, you mentioned cybersecurity, physical security, integrating DERs. Rob mentioned that, that that increases what's called the threat surface when you're talking about cybersecurity. And he covered it earlier. That having a private LTE network that is owned and operated by the utility provides control and security of data traffic. We are, of course, endeavoring to comply with 3GPP, our third-generation partnership project, as our stringent cyber standards. And it provides greater cybersecurity and control than public networks in questions. For example, such as where to deploy the network coverage and capacity needs, which application needs priority access. So it's important for us as a utility providing an essential service like electricity not just be able to bounce back quick, but to be able to bounce back forward when there are disturbances in our system, whether it's cyber, physical security or some operational disturbance and having a private LTE will help us in that process.

Jason Price:

Another key angle from private LTE integration is the idea of collective verse individual action by utilities. So, this questions for both of you. What are the benefits of utilizing collective action in this regard? And are utilities embracing these opportunities as a collective like they should? Rob would like to start?

Rob Schwartz:

Sure. Let me start with, as we've been able to travel around the country and talk with leadership in utilities, we saw the same kind of challenges being solved simultaneously. Meaning facing the same kind of use cases and network evolution as Gil talked about, as really NYPA is leading through their Vision 2020 plan. And what we realized was uniquely in this sector, and as everyone knows, in the utility sector, utilities are willing to work together, unlike almost any other sector in our economy. Because of that, the availability of this collective action, and really we think of it as kind of a network effect, right? So that the more networks that are developed and, in some way, connected, and that can be physical connections because there's efficiencies and economies of scale there, but also in the information sharing. We've seen this through NYPAs leadership already in being a founding member, along with Anterix's and other utilities in the Utility Broadband Alliance or UBBA, which is really grassroots initial effort of utilities that are driving towards understanding how to use private broadband in their infrastructure to solve various use cases coming together to share that information. So Ameren, who was one of the early entities that piloted, shared their learnings. Southern Company, that has already deployed a private LTE network, hosted for this Utility Broadband Alliance. But really that to me is the beginning of what becomes the ability of this industry to work together to get the collective value of the scale of all of the-- harnessing the brainpower and the development of all the utilities.

Rob Schwartz:

Recently, Guidehouse that used to be Navigant one of their research folks named Richelle Elberg just released a paper that identifies the benefits of this collective action. It's worth looking at. She talks about this enhanced incremental value creation for each network participant from the collective and identified a couple of key things that I thought were worth calling out in this, what she calls a utility communications network of networks. First, the economies of scale and scope, right? Just the tremendous buying power and developmental power of creating scale for both cost and efficiency of that equipment. The other is the industry-specific and industry-wide product and application development. When Gil was talking about a lot of those unique applications, that they're looking about how to apply the 900-megahertz broadband spectrum or private LTE as a technology, they're not alone in that effort. The collective development of getting developers to focus on drones is a good example. But how do they do that? They need a large enough scale of customers to focus on it. And so the collective effort of the utility industry to drive those solutions together is very powerful.

Rob Schwartz:

The other is the ability to share the resources. Just data gathering analytics results. As Gil said, when this pilot we're working together is complete, absolutely it will be shared industry-wide so that everyone can learn from it and add to it, so that everyone can benefit. And I think importantly, as Gil talked about, the cybersecurity challenges, the information sharing, cybersecurity monitoring, support, connectivity, additive to all the work already going on in the industry, but now with a new collective network of sensors and capabilities, we think is going to be very, very powerful. And at this point, we're working with Anterix's over 40 utilities in their thinking and evolution. And we really see the opportunity to connect the dots between all of those efforts to make it a much stronger collective effort. And so that's why this Navigant, Guidehouse report that came out recently, we think is a really good architectural paper to be able to drive that concept forward.

Jason Price:

Thank you for that. Gil, I assume you're one of the 40 members of that collective. Any comments or final words regarding the collective effort?

Gil Quiniones:

Well, we have a saying in the electric utility industry, unity of mission, unity of message, and it's this concept of collective effort and collective action. It's part of our DNA. Whether it's helping each other and storm restoration or doing research and development through the Electric Power Research Institute or now projects like this or initiatives like this, technology innovation, building a private LTE network. As Rob mentioned, we have a users' group that's 24-7, 365 sharing ideas for the benefit of the collective. It's part of who we are. It's part of how we operate. So we're not only connected physically through our electric transmission and distribution grids, but we're really connected in many other areas. And that's kind of how we operate. Rob mentioned cybersecurity. Cybersecurity can only be dealt with if we have collective preparation, collective defense, and collective response, both amongst utilities, between utilities, and federal, state, and local government partners and technology companies. It's going to take that type of an effort because we are going against nation-states. And so, again, to have a more secure, robust private LTE in this specific application is very, very critical.

Jason Price:

Absolutely. And the collective effort is what makes this industry so exciting. Sadly, we're running out of time for this episode. So let's get back to each of you with some closing thoughts about the future of private LTE in the utility sector. Gil, how do you see NYPA and your peer utilities focusing on this important area moving forward? And what are some of the priorities you see in, say, the next five years?

Gil Quiniones:

Oh, that's an interesting question. When we began this journey back in 2014, I had all kinds of good ideas that we would do. And we implemented many of them at NYPA, but we also discovered a lot of new things along the way. And I anticipate that will be the case. That we will be discovering a lot of new things along the way. But we're going to be looking at, how do we push intelligence at the edge closer to our workers so that they can make real-time, smart decisions to operate and to maintain our assets, keep them resilient, keep them reliable and available to produce electricity. We're also going to be looking at some novel applications. How do we use, for example, AR and VR for training purposes? Things like that. I'm looking at more applications of data analytics and AI and machine learning because we're going to be streaming-- I expect, once we've built our fiber backbone and our private wireless network, we're probably going to be streaming 150 to 200 thousand sensor points that now we need to slice and dice and make sense of. I am so excited of what the future will bring. I'm excited to do this pilot. I'm excited to then deploy private wireless networks in our applicable service areas here in New York State. And partnerships like this, with Anterix's and others, is a good way to start.

Jason Price:

Exciting indeed. So, Rob, I'll give you the last word here. What does Anterix's have in store for the industry moving forward? Can you tease out any upcoming projects or exciting developments you're willing to share? We know that 5G has been a buzz-worthy topic recently. Will that play a role in the broadband discussion moving forward? Give us your final thoughts here.

Rob Schwartz:

Thank you for that opportunity. A few things I want to hit on. One is how excited we are about the ability of the industry to come together now through the numerous industry leaders that have come forward to put pilots forward, to work with the National Renewable Energy Lab in that effort and other initiatives that we have going on now, and we'll continue to see what I see as that snowballing effect of this industry interests growing. And it's really growing because the need for these private wireless networks, as we just talked about, continues to expand. So the consolidation of all these use cases on to a reliable, robust, secure private LTE network is only going to continue to grow. And we're excited at Anterix's to really be able to take our nationwide 900-megahertz spectrum and enable utilities to design, build, and own and operate their own networks with their own level of control as they require.

Rob Schwartz:

And then the other point is really the collective. I hit on it before, but I think there's really a window of opportunity now for the utility industry to seize upon this collective action for private LTE. It's both understanding the spectrum requirements and what's available. It's being able to work together and to develop the solution set. It's across the board. And it's not just about the spectrum. This is complementary to fiber deployments that are happening. It's complementary to existing communication systems. It also is complementary to other spectrum bands that are higher frequency, that are for additional use cases. Most carriers around the globe have multiple bands as they got more mature but foundational built on low ban like 900-megahertz. And so we see an opportunity now as a call to action from the industry to continue to work together, creating the standards based-- around the standard based global technology, harmonizing on 900-megahertz's as a foundation nationwide, adding on all the additional layers of development and thinking to solve all these critical use cases. And I think, again, the white paper that we saw recently from Guidehouse talking about this network of networks and the importance of it within the industry, I think is a really good guideline to think about how to approach this.

Jason Price:

That's a great way to bring it home. Well, listen, I want to thank you both Gil Quiniones of NYPA and Rob Schwartz of Anterix. Gil and Bob can both be found on the Energy Central Platform, sharing their insight and looking forward to your questions and comments. And of course, I want to once again thank Anterix's for making this episode possible. Gentlemen, thank you for joining us today.

Rob Schwartz:

Thanks very much.

Gil Quiniones:

Thank you for having me. Yeah, thank you for having me.

Jason Price:

Once again, I'm your host Jason Price. Plugin and stay fully charged in the discussion by hopping into the community at energycentral.com. See you next time at the Energy Central Power Perspectives Podcast.


 

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