The 2020 hurricane season officially began on June 1, and researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other groups are forecasting a particularly active year for storms. As if these predictions on their own aren’t daunting enough, this year’s season takes place against the backdrop of a global pandemic, making hurricane preparedness more challenging than ever for electric utilities. The recent availability of private broadband for critical infrastructure entities will make it easier for utilities to prepare for and respond to natural disasters, by allowing them to take advantage of advanced data capabilities, video and sophisticated analytics.
The opportunity to leverage long-range data communications follows a recent action by the FCC to realign the 900 MHz band, creating a new 6 MHz broadband segment to support the networks and technologies needed to modernize critical infrastructure. Private LTE will be the foundation for rapid communications that will allow organizations to manage operations locally or at remote locations, to monitor and process real-time data and to dramatically increase capacity for machine-to-machine communication. Further, it will introduce greater cybersecurity and control to utilities, allowing for the confident deployment of advanced automation and monitoring across the grid.
Private broadband networks will also bring greater resilience to data, in much the same way that land mobile radio has for voice communications, providing a reliable pipeline for critical information that remains operational, even when public networks do not. Past hurricanes have exposed flaws in public LTE networks, with widespread and lengthy interruptions to service impeding recovery efforts.
Utilities are facing constant pressure to improve grid resiliency and reliability, as well as the security of their people, assets and data. Greater automation and smart communications with analytics at the edge can help achieve these goals. While no utility is impervious to high winds and flooding, the right communications solutions can aid hurricane response and recovery. Given that utilities are often the first on-site in the wake of a hurricane, making sure electric lines are secured before search and rescue, law enforcement and public safety personnel step in, having reliable communications and situational awareness are even more critical.
As the electrical grid becomes ever more automated, private broadband networks will support a multitude of sensors and devices, transmitting business-critical data. These networks will support the large-scale deployment of fault sensors across the power grid to quickly notify utility control centers when service has been disrupted and inform outage management. Knowing the location of a fault will allow personnel or automated devices to isolate it and reroute power without sending a technician into the field, which will help to minimize the number of customers impacted. Automatic alerts may also be enabled through properly placed sensors, to give utilities insight into outages or potential issues before customers report them. Real-time awareness of the electrical grid will allow utilities to deploy resources where they will have the greatest impact.
Video technologies and streams may also be connected to and shared over private broadband networks to monitor and protect critical infrastructure, even in remote locations. Personnel will be able to monitor flood levels and weather impact around substations and transmission lines during or following a hurricane from either a storm operations center or remote locations. The real-time data will help them to quickly assess an event or threat and take action. Further, data may be shared seamlessly to streamline and inform workflows, so technicians in the field bring advanced insights and greater efficiency to maintenance and repairs.
Video can also play an important role in damage assessment following a storm. Video from fixed cameras or deployed with technicians in the field can send real-time visuals of impacted equipment and infrastructure for assessment, so that restoration teams can order replacement parts, schedule repairs and allocate resources. Drones can also be used to quickly assess the impact to equipment and lines in flooded, dangerous or remote areas, allowing operators to zoom in and capture video and photos to bring greater intelligence to response plans.
Today’s utilities are addressing complex challenges that are compounded by the threat of natural disasters that are growing in intensity and frequency. Investing in reliable telecommunications infrastructure will help them to leverage actionable data to support the day-to-day demands for reliable, secure service delivery and to rise to the occasion when faced with the environmental challenges of hurricanes or other natural disasters.
POWERGRID International is hosting a webcast titled 14 Reasons Utilities Should Consider Private Broadband Deployment on July 30, 2020. Click here to learn more about the webinar and register to attend.