IP-based Standards Support Future Smart Grid

By Jorge Blasco, DS2

President Barack Obama’s 2009 stimulus package reserved $4.5 billion for smart grid spending. The much-hyped future smart grid will provide reliability, stability and practicality. But what makes a smart grid smart?

Choosing the right communications technology is key to creating an intelligent platform that can continually monitor utility assets, operations and consumer demand. Each communications technology, however, often comes with its own management protocol, creating further problems. Utilities may use three or four communications technologies to build the smart grid and end up with three or four management systems that won’t talk to one another.

Several communications standards are available for the smart grid development. Among the options are: high-speed and low-speed powerline technology (PLC), IEEE 802.15.4, cellular networks, WiMAX and others. The key is not so much which standard or technology to choose, but how to choose the right technology with more than sufficient bandwidth to ensure scalability over time and to ensure the technology is IP-based.

TCP/IP provides an easy solution to manage systems based on incompatible technologies by providing a common communication protocol for disparate communication technologies based on different PHY/MAC technologies. Unless smart grid technology is based on open TCP/IP standards, the fragmentation of multiple PHY/MAC technologies (and their associated management protocols) will hinder significantly smart grid growth.

An IP-based smart grid means that every smart meter, smart appliance (air-conditioner, heater, dishwasher), plug-in vehicle and distributed sensor will have its own IP address and will support standard IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) protocols for remote management. With an IP-based management system, utilities can deploy completely different PHY/MAC communication systems in different parts of their grid and still control them with a unified management system. The smart grid is not a single project but a series of projects that must communicate. IP-based communication networks are easier to manage and to extend for new applications, and they provide more flexibility to utilities and consumers when choosing multiple vendors.

The intelligent smart grid, with dozens of IP-based devices exchanging power consumption information in real time needs a high-speed connection that can reach any location on the grid, as well as communicate with smart meters at substations on the utility-owned distribution network. High-speed PLC enables bidirectional digital communication to support multiple applications across the transmission and distribution networks with residential meters, which is known as advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) in the consumer network. DS2 powerline chips for smart grid applications come with an embedded network stack that fully supports the most popular IP protocols (TCP, UDP, HTTP, TELNET, FTP, TFTP, SNMP, DHCP). This allows utilities to securely assign an IP address to every smart meter, transformer and substation and use standard TCP/IP-based management tools to control their networks.

A smart grid in which all the elements (smart meters, home appliances, infrastructure devices, plug-in vehicles and more) support IP will allow utilities and consumers to enjoy the benefits of a competitive and innovative ecosystem built around open standards.

Jorge Blasco is president and CEO of DS2, a leading innovator and global supplier of high-speed powerline communications technology. On the net at: www.ds2.es


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