As the smart grid gains in popularity, embedded technology that enables two-way communications is becoming a key component in extracting data from legacy equipment at the network’s edge. Intelligence can be embedded inside meters or attached externally to equipment. The efficient acquisition of data and control across the network from each isolated point are power industry requirements.
But what is critical to enabling this real-time communications highway? The answer is communications technology embedded in utility meters, distribution substations and other related power equipment. Such technology enables organizations to control entire systems, read meters and allocate power according to need from one central location over the Internet.
As highlighted by Pike Research’s December 2010 smart grid report on 10 trends to watch in 2011, it will be important to keep an eye on communications standards, data management and networking vendors entering the space. Industry standards, including IEEE802.11n, Wi-Fi Enterprise, IEE802.3, ZigBee, IEE802.15.4 and Bluetooth will begin to catch up with deployments, and companies will need to determine which works best.
Data management also becomes more difficult as more smart meters are deployed because of the influx of information that must be tracked. All this is leading to utility companies’ looking at their back end databases and business intelligence infrastructure to ensure they can handle the data seamlessly.
It’s important to bring together the range of communications hardware and protocols–Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and Internet Protocol (IP), Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), Modbus, and Open Smart Grid Protocol (OSGP)–to remotely control and manage the diverse devices on the network and behind firewalls.
The utilities industry recognizes the benefits of IP-based communication. At the substation level, however, there are often compatibility issues with communication hardware as a result of using various vendors. Numerous critical components constitute the smart grid. Capability is complicated further because many components are legacy and not directly smart grid-friendly.
Given this versatility and protocol independence, networking technology can bring together diverse devices on the network. Device server technology can aggregate communications of local interfaces including asynchronous serial, RS-232, RS-485, Bluetooth, ZigBee and digital and analog input/output (IO).
Machine-to-machine (M2M) communications addresses the data issue, as well. It allows for the collection of real-time meter data from legacy equipment, which then can be sent to the utility to interpret and address.
Power-consumption information can be sent via numerous forms over the network, including Ethernet, 802.11, cellular and power line carrier. The challenge occurs when companies with legacy, non-networked equipment want to optimize their investment in existing infrastructure.
Using external device servers and embedded modules, organizations can provide serial connectivity for applications, as device servers allow independence from proprietary protocols.
In addition to device servers, M2M technology provides the ability to translate protocols to allow nonroutable protocols to be routed. It also offers options for serial and network connections, including serial tunneling and automatic host connections.
With so much data available, organizations are challenged to gather and process the information effectively and efficiently. Integrating communications technology into one’s existing smart grid deployment enables remote access, control and troubleshooting capabilities for more efficient data acquisition, control, reduced costs and better customer service. It also ensures legacy equipment can be connected to a network. This is a top priority for the utility industry.
Author: Daryl Miller is vice president of engineering at Lantronix.