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The Digital Transformation of the Power Grid

Feb 7, 2023

Digital Transformation of the Power Grid

With the increasing demands of the modern world, the power grid must adapt and modernize to ensure the reliability and efficiency of energy delivery. One important aspect of this digital transformation is the integration of wireless technology, which offers numerous benefits to utilities, from power grid monitoring to dealing with prosumers and more.

Maintaining a steady supply of energy is a complicated and demanding task. The energy industry is transitioning towards more sustainable sources of power, such as solar panels, which requires proactive planning. Meanwhile, external factors like economic conditions, security risks, and natural disasters only add to the difficulties. To overcome these challenges, utilities are embracing digital transformation. Let’s explore the various elements of the modern digital power grid and how wireless private networks are helping utilities achieve their objectives.

The Digital Transformation of the Power Grid

The Task at Hand

The power grid is an intricate network with a delicate balance between power generation and consumption: any instability in the grid can result in widespread blackouts. In the past, only power consumption was unpredictable, while power generation was stable and easy to calculate. Renewable energy sources are much less predictable and introduce uncertainty throughout the process.

Solar generates nothing at night and may generate less on certain days. Wind, likewise, can only generate power when the wind is actually blowing, which is never guaranteed. Thus, variability in power generation has also increased. Maintaining a consistent equilibrium between power input and consumption from the grid is a sophisticated dance that requires more careful, moment-to-moment monitoring than ever before.

This is where private networks come in. The evolution of networks to cellular technologies offers utilities the benefits of a vast and rapidly growing ecosystem of global sensors and devices. Furthermore, the security, reliability, and self-sufficiency of wireless network quality are particularly valuable to utilities seeking a dependable solution.

Getting Started

Traditional substations have separate, copper-based dedicated lines for each primary control element, limiting their functionality to one task at a time. To enhance a substation’s capabilities, utilities would have to install additional wiring and upgrade the cable trenches connecting the switchyard to the control room. These analog systems are both cumbersome and outdated.

Modernization of substations begins with upgrading the communication infrastructure from analog to digital and optimizing the transport between the switchyard and control room with the right mix of fiber and wireless technologies. With the implementation of wireless power grid modernization, utilities can collect more data in real-time and proactively manage disruptions with increased precision.

Power Grid Monitoring and Reduced Operational Complexity

Power grid modernization requires advanced wireless networks to effectively support new use cases, such as smart video monitoring. This same private wireless system can also integrate employee devices with enterprise-level features. As sensors and substation components, such as Intelligent Electronic Devices (IEDs), Remote Terminal Units (RTUs), and relay systems, transition to wireless, grid management and corporate communication will also become streamlined on mobile devices. This convergence of IT and OT will significantly simplify operations for utilities.

Wireless technology also enhances teleprotection, which monitors the power grid for faults and isolates them to prevent damage to critical components. A timely response is crucial in this process. A combination of 4G/5G low-latency wireless solutions can extend teleprotection’s reach beyond the local substation to central locations, and the integration of AI/ML allows for proactive fault isolation. As the device ecosystem for wireless technologies like 5G NR evolves, utilities will be able to take advantage of new capabilities, such as remote control of critical switching infrastructure.

Customer Safety First

As utilities embrace power grid modernization, the dependability and protection offered by LTE wireless will extend from the power distribution system to the final stretch of the power delivery network. This last leg, where power reaches end consumers, is critical for safety and security.

With more environmentally conscious and cost-conscious consumers opting for solar panels at their homes, the flow of power is no longer just one-way. Consumers can now both generate and consume energy, becoming “prosumers.” To manage this bidirectional energy flow and balance generation and demand, real-time feedback is more crucial than ever.

Monitoring at the Point of Delivery

LTE wireless in the last mile of the power delivery infrastructure brings new opportunities for grid management and power grid monitoring. With real-time data feedback, utilities can ensure the security of the power grid and proactively address potential faults at the level of the neighborhood, fixing some problems before they even happen.

Thanks to real-time information from LTE wireless, substations have the necessary data to isolate smaller parts of the neighborhood grid, avoiding widespread instability and blackouts in the larger grid. Additionally, the proactive monitoring of infrastructure, especially those affected by a weather event, enhances safety and improves response time when issues do arise. Moreover, real-time analysis of energy consumption and prosumer generation enables utilities to optimize the integration of distributed energy resources across transmission and distribution substations, leading to a more efficient overall power grid.

The Solution: Private Networks

The last mile of the power grid is a crucial area where utility traffic and consumer traffic from smartphones and fixed wireless compete for bandwidth. Using the consumer smartphone network for critical power grid devices can lead to unreliable and costly connections, but a dedicated Private LTE network ensures that the power grid remains secure and reliable, unaffected by competing consumer demands.

The rise of prosumers and their solar panels adds complexity to the utility landscape, requiring the ability to manage the delicate balance between power generation and consumption. The suburban migration of populations has led utilities to expand their last-mile power infrastructure. Wireless connections provide a fast and reliable solution for activating new power grid devices in suburban areas.

LTE wireless provides solutions to the challenges facing utilities. With its reliable and secure technology, LTE wireless can support the power grid from distribution to delivery infrastructure, improving overall efficiency and security.

Capillary Networks

As we move towards a smarter power grid, the demand for a reliable and secure network infrastructure increases. From generation to the last mile, wireless private networks based on cellular technology have proven to be effective for utilities. However, managing the last hop in the last mile presents new challenges with the addition of multiple non-3GPP devices, such as smart meters, weather reporting, video monitoring, and more.

To conquer these difficulties, utilities must transition to a streamlined, optimized network setup. By utilizing the shared fundamental infrastructure supplied by private LTE, multiple dedicated capillary networks can be integrated into a unified cellular capillary network.

The global communication infrastructure can be linked to these capillary networks through cellular networks. The junction between the cellular network and the mesh capillary network functions as any other end-user device, with the enhanced security and dependability of a SIM card.

The Impossible Becomes Possible

Not that long ago, the idea of a connected smart grid on the scale imagined here was a pipe dream. Lack of infrastructure and a lack of necessary tech to accomplish a smart grid were just some of the obstacles. All that has changed. As the world moves towards a more connected and wireless-based internet, utilities will have a plethora of connectivity options at their disposal. Wireless technology offers exciting prospects for enhancing control, scalability, and reliability in the connection of power generation and distribution.

By utilizing the right spectrum, device environment, and technology, utilities can also use wireless to streamline critical operations like fault detection, isolation, and restoration. As the power industry modernizes to meet growing demand and business requirements, mission-critical wireless networks will be a crucial component in enabling utilities to achieve successful power grid modernization.

SAAB RDS: On the Cutting Edge of Digital Transformation

The use of wireless technology in power grid management has the potential to revolutionize the way utilities operate. With increased reliability and security, real-time data analysis, and improved control, utilities can stay ahead of potential faults and provide more efficient service.

SAAB RDS has the expertise and solutions necessary to help utilities adopt wireless technology and modernize their power grids. Contact SAAB RDS today to learn more about how we can help you achieve the power grid monitoring you need in your digital transformation.