Smart grids are the wave of the future for energy management by power companies around the world. However, getting there requires a whole new approach to communications networks from power utilities.
The benefits of smart grids are many. Smart Grids give utilities better visibility to operate their electric systems more efficiently. The increased movement of data with analysis provides the benefits of reduced operating costs, increased power quality and improved outage response. Customers also benefit from new features such as time-of-day charging and increased participation from independent power producers.
But smart grids require better energy solutions as enabled by communications networks that are substantially more advance than those currently being used by most electric utilities.
“A key enabler for the safe and efficient transformation of a power utility network is a modern, reliable, and flexible communications infrastructure that can route increasing amounts of monitoring, control and status information effectively, efficiently and on time,” according to a recent Alcatel-Lucent (News - Alert) application note, “Deploying IP/MPLS Communications Networks for Smart Grids.”
Smart grid communications require an end-to-end IP-based network, according to Alcatel-Lucent, which is different than the traditional time division multiplexing (TDM) over Synchronous Digital Hierarchy (SDH) or Synchronous Optical Network (SONET)-centric networks that many utilities currently use.
At the same time, however, utilities need a flexible transformation that preserves existing infrastructure investments and minimizes risks during the transition.
IP/Multi-protocol Label Switching (MPLS) as smart grid enabler
An IP/MPLS solution is recommended by Alcatel-Lucent. It needs to incorporate state-of the-art technologies while continuing to support TDM and legacy applications. This means being future ready and capable while providing a smooth transition and high-performance path for utilities to migrate their communications as they transform their power generation and delivery infrastructure.
“This new IP/MPLS network will allow the utility to maximize the cost effectiveness and efficiency of its network without jeopardizing reliability, as well as enabling the deployment of new devices and applications that can improve operational and workflow efficiency,” according to the Alcatel-Lucent application note.
Alcatel-Lucent’s next-generation IP/MPLS offers several advantages for power utilities looking to develop smart grid communications. The solution:
- Supports existing mission-critical TDM services and new IP and Ethernet applications and smart grid services
- Minimizes costs without compromising features, functionality and reliability
- Scales, allowing the utility to increase services and grow the number of users, devices, applications and capacity
- Ensures network and operational system security
- Is highly available and resilien
- Enables advanced QoS to prioritize mission-critical applications over other traffic
- Provides reliable transmission over different transport technologies including wireless microwave and WDM systems
As the paper notes, “Alcatel-Lucent leverages cutting-edge technologies, along with the company’s broad and deep experience in the utility industry, to help utilities build better, new generation networks with IP/MPLS.”
Finally, it is important to stress the end-to-end aspects in terms of enabling utilities to fully leverage the benefits of their smart grid deployments. Better information from all of the utilities’ power networks translates into substantially improved operational efficiencies, faster mean times to restoration, improved planning and a host of other benefits that improve not just operations but the customer experience and brand loyalty.
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Edited by Peter Bernstein