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Technology | May 2011

IP hikes grid efficiency

An open internet-protocol (IP) based network enables networking from multiple vendors, thereby increasing competition and decreasing costs, says Sandeep Raina.

The smart grid is a data communication network integrated with the power grid that enables operators to collect and analyse data about power generation, transmission, distribution and consumption. It promises a more efficient way of supplying and consuming energy. Benefits of smart grids for consumers include lower energy bills, reduced outages and disruptions and better control over energy consumption through visibility into usage patterns. It provides more choices for energy sources to supply energy to the grid and thus support environmental sustainability efforts.

For utility companies, there is an increase in the reliability of the energy system and enhancement in preventive maintenance through improved monitoring and diagnostic capabilities. This helps reduce the cost of energy transmission and distribution (T&D) through better demand management and helps integrate renewable and distributed energy sources. It minimises the need to invest in additional generation and capacity extension projects and reduces risk by improving the security and resilience of the grid. Smart grid communication technology provides predictive information and recommendations to utilities and their suppliers and customers, on how best to manage power.

To provide such near-real-time information, a transformation of the power grid communication infrastructure is needed in T&D substations.

Modern data communication has evolved from telephony modems to internet protocol (IP) networks and utilities are ready to transform their communication networks from serial to IP-based communication. Bringing more automation and intelligence to the network helps address utility concerns such as reduction in operational expenses and meet new regulatory requirements.

Substation automation benefits

Transition from a legacy to future substation helps in the following:

  • Reduce operations expenses: Converging mutiple controls and monitoring systems onto a single IP network enables utility companies to reduce power outages and service interruptions and decrease response times by quickly identifying, isolating, diagnosing and repairing faults. In addition, utilities can benefit by more efficiently using their existing workforce and reducing the amount of service calls through programmes such as condition-based maintenance. Substation automation also allows utilities to provide a remote workforce to secure access to applications and data that are located in the operations centre.
  • Reduces capital expenses: As demand for energy continues to grow, utilities are challenged to find new ways to shave peak load to help reduce costs and manage demand and supply of energy more efficiently. Substation automation can be the enabling technology for mass-scale peak load shaving and demand response, which will reduce the need to build as many power plants to meet peak demand. Additionally, substation automation can reduce expenses and the complexity of dedicated control wiring between devices found in many T&D substations today by converging to an Ethernet-based network.
  • Enables distributed intelligence: As network intelligence expands beyond the control centre out into substations, new applications can be developed that enable distributed protection, control and automation functions. Such a network also introduces opportunities for business and home energy management.
  • Meets regulatory compliance: For many governments, utilities are considered critical infrastructure and have economic and national security concerns. So various regulatory mandates exist or are emerging that require utilities to secure, monitor and manage critical data networks in accordance with regulatory requirements.
  • Improves grid security: Grid security is about creating a secure end-to-end architecture that maximises visibility into the entire network, devices and events. Substation automation enables an important part of the security architecture and allows network operators to control network users, devices and traffic. Physical security can be layered on top of this network security to create security zones of access control, IP cameras for surveillance monitoring and video analytics to protect and alert network administrators of intruders. A secure IP network for transmission of grid communications, physical security and remote workforce management applications can also be achieved.
Open standards approach

When they migrate away from closed, proprietary protocols, utilities are no longer constrained by a single-vendor, proprietary solution. An open IP-based network allows networking from multiple vendors, thereby increasing competition and decreasing costs. Peer-to-peer communication is achieved through the use of virtual local area network and multicast capabilities, which are inherent to Ethernet. This approach supports multiple network topologies and redundancy schemes for protection against link and node failures within the substation. In addition, comprehensive upgrades of the existing infrastructure are not needed since IP/Ethernet provides a smooth transition from legacy to future substations. A solutions-based approach to substation automation requires understanding different use cases and benefits around automation and designing complete solutions to address them. These solutions fall into four main areas-networking, security, network management and advanced technology solutions.

In conclusion, energy organisations can make the transformation to smart grids, starting with a foundation of converged IP networks and proven security principles for substation automation. From a technology standpoint, networking equipment and software with integrated security capabilities empower energy organisations to build secure IP networks. Going forward, the maturity, reliability and success of these products and services can shorten the learning curve for the power grid.

Challenges in a legacy substation
  • Need to comply with security requirements and industry standards
  • High cost of operating substation network
  • Increase in the duration and number of system outages
Substation automation benefits
  • Reduction in power outages, service interruptions and decrease in response time
  • Compliance with regulatory mandates by helping to secure, monitor and manage critical data networks
  • Reduction in operational expenses through remote diagnostics to resolve network issues
  • Plan and develop energy management sol­­­utions to take advantage of new service creation opportunities
  • Reduce lease-line charges by consolidating services on a single, converged network
  • Extend the value of the utility's corporate network to the substation
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