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Smart Grid Communications Management: An Essential New Discipline

As utilities press forward with smart grid initiatives, they will have to build complex, heterogeneous, multilayered communications networks unlike anything their industry has previously seen. Efficient and effective management of these networks is central to keeping the smart grid smart, and therefore vital to the reliability, safety, and security of the power grid. The communications industry has been building and managing similar networks for decades, and has developed methods and systems that utilities should embrace as the basis for responding to the communications challenges presented by the smart grid concept.

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In order to realize the full potential of the smart grid vision, utilities must embrace a substantial increase in the size, variety, and complexity of their communications network infrastructure. Smart grids disruptive technologies, such as advanced metering infrastructure, distribution automation, demand response, home energy management, and renewable energy and electric vehicle integration, all fundamentally depend on significantly upgraded communications networks, incorporating new technologies such as wireless, fiber optics, Ethernet, and IP. These new networks will be characterized by the need to support: Increasing intelligence for agility via automation, tools, analytics, and data Multiple interconnected, multivendor/technology communications and IT networks Millions of IP-based intelligent network devices, with the number growing exponentially. Managing this proliferation of communications network technologies is fast becoming a problem.

Managing the Smart Grids Intelligence

Where there are currently thousands of devices in the power distribution path, there will very soon be millions of smart meters, sensors, routers, switches, and more. All of them must be specified, purchased, stored, planned, installed, configured, activated, and maintained over time. A small army of qualified telecom engineers could well have difficulty meeting the associated challenges. In the real world of limited staffing, how will these devices be maintained efficiently without creating an unacceptable cost burden to the utility and its customers? These devices will need to communicate with each other in real time, machine to machine. Instantaneous interfacing will be critically important during times of peak demand in order to moderate power loads, and during disaster situations such as hurricanes for both power control and restoration. New smart grid devices will cause data volumes in the communications networks to grow by two or more orders of magnitude. And as the smart grid is applied to the transmission and distribution networks for more intelligent synchronization of supply and demand, or to monitor and manage loads in real time, how much more critical will it be for the smart grid communications network to be adequately sized, to have sufficient capacity, to be resilient to alarm storms, and for all of this to be visible to the utility? How do you design and manage for the situation where the utility grid and the smart grid react at different speeds? This is why smart grid communications management becomes such a critical discipline.

The Limitations of Interim Strategies

Of the thousands of utilities worldwide, the vast majority use spreadsheets to manage their current communications networks. The methods in use have served their purpose, but cannot scale to the complexity thats coming. Spreadsheets and home-grown systems will not be able to scale without significantly impacting reliability, safety, security, and profitability. Perhaps even more importantly, current utility staff often does not have the training or experience to understand the true nature of this complexity, and what is actually involved in managing multilayer, multitechnology communications networks. And while some utilities are trying to cope through proprietary vendor management systems or home-grown systems, there are simply too many different technologies in play leading to

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siloed heterogeneous networks with associated operations and management systems that are largely non-integrated, along with a burdensome crush of highly manual processes.
Traf c Volume Communication needs of tens of millions of smart meters Other intelligent power devices switches, reclosers, fault circuit indicators, sensors, Network Complexity Managing close coupling of grid and communication networks Security management of smart grid applications in both customer premises and networks Response Time Immediate two-way real time communications among control centers, substations and smart meters Rapid emergency response in natural or man-made disasters

Figure 1 Communications network challenges for the smart grid

The key to overcoming these issues lies in recognizing the significantly greater need for dedicated, centralized management of communications in the smart grid. However, communications network management (of the scale and sophistication now required) is a somewhat unfamiliar operational domain for utilities and is often underestimated, leaving them with a serious gap in their overall smart grid strategy.

Speed Reading Telecoms Transformation

The utility industry is not the first to face this transformational change, driven by dramatic IT and communications innovations. The communications industry has been doing so for more than 40 years. This has given it the time to absorb the changes, discover what works and what doesnt, and find effective and efficient methods of managing the complexity of constantly evolving, heterogeneous, wireline and wireless networks and technology convergence. Telecom has also developed an array of communications network management systems and tools that directly address the needs utilities are beginning to face, utilizing the sophisticated automation of complex tasks to ensure both network integrity and operational efficiency. However, what the communications industry accomplished in over 40 years of introducing and managing multiple technologies, the utility industry has to do in less than 10. Getting it right will be critical not only for utilities, but also for the security and the positions of their countries in the world economy. There will not be time for trial and error or learning on the job. And the complexity of managing a convergent communications and power network requires new ways of thinking and operating, and changes to business processes, organizations, and systems.

Smart Grid Communications Management

The key is to exploit the tools and existing network knowledge that provide real-world, practical solutions in the area of overlapping needs. Telecom has had to recognize the need for a centralized view of infrastructure, and of service health and quality. It understands the critical need to manage networks and data at scale. It is fully aware of the importance, and ever-evolving nature of network security. It understands how to deal with variety and continuous change in the network, to increase bandwidth, to reduce power consumption, to buildout new areas, and to retire old assets. It understands the need to fully comprehend the impact of failure conditions, and to prioritize the response to them. In these and other areas, utilities can draw from telecoms experience to smooth the transition to full smart grid deployment and effective management.

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Generation Transmission

Network Planning

Network Operations & Security

Network Provisioning Wide Area Network

Field Area Network Distribution Network Assurance Neighborhood Area Network Premises Area Network COMMUNICATIONS INFRASTRUCTURE


Figure 2 System and process focus areas for the design and operation of smart grid communications networks

Reliability, Safety, and Security

With millions more points of possible failure due to the deployment of smart equipment and devices, the smart grid also poses new risks. The power supply will only be as reliable as the communications networks that enable and control it. In turn, the reliability of those networks will depend on proper management tools and practices. End-to-end visibility of these multiple integrated networks will be vital, as it provides the only way to identify a point of failure in real time and trigger an immediate field response. That same visibility is necessary to ensure public and employee safety. Mismanagement of the conjoined power/communications networks could result in transformer, tower, substation, or other fires and even explosions. Regulating the multidirectional power flow properly via the communications networks that underpin the grid will be key to maintaining delicate power and grid stability. Millions of networked devices also make the entire power system more vulnerable to security threats. Hacking, power theft, unauthorized commands, and other intrusions into hardware, software, and the holistic network must be protected against. The wireless spectrum used by equipment providers and that selected to communicate with field workers must be assured to be both secure and reliable. Government security regulations must be met and all cyber security provisions adhered to, such as those outlined in the internationally-adopted North American Electric Reliability Corporation Critical Infrastructure Protection (NERC CIP) standards. Here too, communications management systems developed for mainstream telecom will help utilities implant intrusion and detection systems and processes to proactively and quickly find and avert problems.

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Manage Growing Network Complexity

Keep Costs Under Control Manage complexity and ease workload through automation Reduce errors and rework with better data Improve capacity management for owned and leased network Eliminate need to constantly correct network inventory data Rationalize, reduce, retire overlapping systems Eliminate spreadsheets

Improved Reliability

See your network clearly Support millions of new intelligent devices Commission your network quickly and accurately Quickly identify how network outages are affecting the grid Dispatch to the right location

Figure 3 Benefits of smart grid communications management

There is no one-network-fits-all solution that combines scalability, coverage, performance, and low cost. Different technology applications have different networking requirements, which is why multitechnology communications networks are inevitable, and why proper network management software solutions are critical. As network segmentation and functions evolve, an array of tiered network layers will define smart grid communications platforms. With this added dimension of complexity, automated network provisioning and configuration, discovery, and reconciliation will also assume a larger role. Smart grid is also based on multiway, complex combinations of device-to-device and human-todevice communications. Properly planning for, acquiring, and holistically managing the necessary network infrastructure is a fundamental requirement for all smart grid applications and services, and is the foundation for efficient automated control of distribution and usage. Integrated end-toend management of this infrastructure has a positive impact on the major areas of concern for power suppliers: reliability, safety, and security. For this reason and many others it is important for utilities to seek out the expertise of communications industry leaders with a deep knowledge of how to evaluate, select, design, deploy, secure, manage, and continuously evolve the complex and demanding communications networks that the smart grid promise depends upon.

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Improved Ef ciency

Manage several integrated, multivendor networks

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