The Smart Grid: What is it? Smart Meters & Smart Grid Technology
The Smart Grid is a complex, networked electric grid that is able to monitor, predict, and react to changing conditions on the electric grid. It also provides a network to track electricity generation, distribution, and consumption down to an individual home or business.
The key characteristics of the Smart Grid:
- Self-healing network that has the ability to report electric power disturbances
- Secure network with the ability to guard against cyber & physical attacks
- Expansion ready to accommodate new energy storage & generation
- Increase electric grid efficiencies by constantly monitoring electricity flow
- Identify potential electricity drains due to equipment malfunctions
- Enable local management of energy consumption and 'micro' generation
Why have a Smart Grid Network?
The Smart Grid has grabbed a large amount of attention over recent years due to the increase in electricity usage around the world, the need to replace aging electricity equipment, the push to migrate to renewable energy sources, and the increase in government funding. In order to understand how complex the electric grid network is, one should look at each network layer of the Smart Grid.
Smart Grid: Neighborhood Area Network
The network layer with the most focus is the Neighborhood Area Network (NAN).The NAN is the first customer touch point in the Smart Grid and accounts for the largest deployment of equipment in the Smart Grid.
The technology that enables the NAN network layer includes smart meters, meter collection points, transformer monitoring solutions, and RF mesh network repeats or power line communication (PLC) repeats.
The basic function of the NAN is to gather the electricity metering data. The NAN is deployed using different technologies around the world according to the standard in each country. The most popular solution in North America includes RF mesh networks (2.4GHz and sub 1GHz varieties). These mesh networks are proprietary in nature, but new standards are being developed to address this issue.
Smart Grid: Regional Case Studies
Power Line Communications (PLC):
In Europe Power Line Communication (PLC) is the most popular technology due to the number of PLC nodes a single transformer can support and the amount of RF power allowed on the ISM band is lower than the North America standard. Most of the Power Line Communication networks deployed in Europe are FSK based and are proprietary. These proprietary PLC networks have not been able to handle the amount of data traffic, and therefore, they do not meet the ultimate goals of the Smart Grid. Therefore, a group of semiconductor companies, utilities, and metering manufacturers have decided to collaborate and create a Power Line Communication standard called PRIME. The goal of PRIME is to develop an open PLC smart metering standard that is able to meet the long term needs of the Smart Grid by providing a high speed, cost effective Power Line Communication (PLC) solution.
Smart Meters vs Electronic Meters
In Asia, PLC and RF mesh networking solutions are being evaluated for their smart grid, but there does not seem to be a leading standard or technology at this time. The local governments are conducting technology trials, but the main push in Asia is to replace electromechanical meters with electronic meters. It is important to understand that electronic meters are not the same as a smart meter. Smart Meters are electronic meters with the added ability to send and receive data over the network and normally have a remote disconnect function. Gas and water meters are also being converted to electronic meters and smart meters which sometimes ride on the Smart Grid infrastructure.
Wide Area Network (WAN)
Wide Area Network (WAN) is the next network layer in the Smart Grid. The Wide Area Network (WAN) is a very important piece because it collects the data from the smart meters and sends the data to the enterprise servers. The collection points sometime referred to as take out points, can support up to 1,000 smart meters in densely populated areas. The components in a collection point vary, but the majority of the collection points in the field are based on industrial rated single board computers with ethernet, cell modems, and sometimes fiber optics connections to the enterprise servers. Collection points in rural areas consume small amounts of energy and have a high loss power potential; for this reason some companies are starting to explore alternative energy sources including solar energy.
Inside the WAN network layer you will also find power substations, power distribution lines, and power generation facilities. These elements while being on a robust communication network today are being refreshed due to their inherent inefficiencies. Their replacements provide a new world of data visibility thanks to innovations in remote sensing technology. The measurement of current, voltage, temperature, and other environmental factors impacting the power line network and their related nodes has now become standard practice. This has been enabled thanks to technological advancements that can now provide sensing solutions that are built to function in a harsh environment and are capable of being self-powered (sometimes referred to as energy harvesting).
Smart Grid: Last two network layers: Enterprise Servers and External Interface
The last two network layers in the Smart Grid are the enterprise servers and external interfaces to customers, power generation operators, distribution operators, and others. These servers collect the data from the smart meters and other equipment on the grid, and display the information to secure information portals. The portal could be a simple webpage that can be accessed from a smart phone to a complex power grid switchboard.
The Smart Grid is a focus segment for Future Energy Solutions. We have gathered a huge amount of experience working with Smart Grid pioneers and early adopters. If the Smart Grid is of interest to you, we would be more than happy to share our expertise. Simply call or complete the Contact Us form and one of our Engineers will follow up with you.