The smart grid delivers electricity from suppliers to consumers using digital technology to save energy, reduce costs, and increase reliability and transparency.

To ensure the growth and viability of the smart grid, companies must successfully deploy embedded technologies with reliable and low-cost two-way communications, such as those offered by Eurotech. Cellular networks have become the common solution for an easily deployed, ubiquitous network. Effectively incorporating cellular technologies into embedded solutions is the foundation for connecting the smart grid.

Data leads to control

The smart grid comprises several end-to-end operational components connecting power-generation plants to consumers. The full value of the smart grid will eventually be realized by integrating the technology behind every component to merge data for a complete view of load management and control. Figure 1 shows a simplified illustration of the smart grid.

Electricity generation, transmission, and distribution are automated based on calculated demand derived from monitoring usage and adjusting the electric supply from generators. However, the smart grid of the future is self-sustaining and self-correcting as electricity travels between the supplier and the consumer, balancing flow in real time while offering consumers greater control of their energy use.

Getting real in real time

The top rationales for smart grid implementation are to establish connectivity, enable smart meters, simplify operations, and reduce costs for power companies and consumers. Due to the typical hub-and-spoke topology, the technology selected for use at a concentrator site that connects to a geographical area of smart meters is important. These networks consist of spread spectrum radio, private RF, power line carrier, mesh networking, and other technologies that allow for real-time connectivity and control. These technologies do not require monthly fees and are generally a fixed-cost solution, with ongoing maintenance requiring little construction and build-out.

The second area of focus is the communication that transpires during the handoff to the grid at the gateway, edge controller, or concentrator. The design is crucial to system performance, and costs must simultaneously be minimized to make the smart grid viable. These communications must be two-way, based on open standards, secure, low cost, easy to deploy, and ubiquitous.

If there is no communication backbone available from a local substation or a stub on a private network, other technologies meet the requirements, including DSL or cable modem, IP radio, and cellular.

DSL or cable modems work but pose some problems with uptime and reliability. Cost is also an issue, and both require copper or cable connectivity to run to the endpoint, which can entail costly trenching and right-of-way issues for installation. IP radio is another option, but installing towers is expensive and maintenance costs are high.

Cellular communication is the ideal choice for ubiquitous IP networking, with simple installation and low maintenance costs. Cellular coverage is excellent because it corresponds to population concentrations, meaning there is power where there are people. Advances in IP cellular technology and competitive pricing among carriers as an expanding revenue stream aside from voice communication create an ideal environment for the smart grid.

The smart grid typically combines the last mile of connectivity to smart meters through a private radio network into the edge gateway, providing the entry point to the cellular networks, as depicted in Figure 2.

Cellular implementation strategies

Several important factors must be considered when choosing the correct hardware path to design a smart grid system with cellular technologies. Whereas making the best selection of cellular technology leads to long product life cycles and shortened deployment time, making a mistake leads to potential redesigns and expensive cellular network certifications that delay system development.

Cellular networks consist of several technologies with their own limitations or features. GSM and CDMA are two current platforms to consider, each with multiple technology implementations based on their development over time increasing throughput.

Data throughput needs in the smart grid are relatively low, but designers must consider longevity, device management, and scaling the solution if data needs grow. From a cost standpoint, the greater the speed and latest technology, the higher the initial cost of the hardware.

Creating the grid with cellular

Connecting the smart grid with cellular technologies assists in creating an advanced network of real-time electricity information. Digitally automating the entire power supply system makes the grid more reliable and efficient. Cellular technology will help grid operators better anticipate where problems might develop and enable them to precisely manage the grid with real-time information.

Eurotech Solutions

For over 20 years Eurotech have supplied products for pipeline monitoring, automatic meter reading, smart grids, telemetry and SCADA requirements. Each of these industries has unique requirements with diverse use of communication technologies, networking and protocols.

Eurotech delivers the hardware and software platform solutions for these markets to securely control and manage data and mission critical assets.

For your energy solutions, Eurotech offers a wide range of tried and tested rugged, industrial hardware along with Eurotech’s EDC – a Cloud based device management and data delivery solution enabling customers an even more efficient way to run their business.

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