The Smart Grid Requires a Smart Network

By: Arthur Cole - Leave a comment


With the proliferation of smartphones, smart cars and smart homes, society is about to be thrown a real curveball with the smart grid. Around the world, utility companies are deploying sensor-driven data analytics and automated, intelligent architectures that are remaking the digital data ecosystem. These technologies have the potential to fundamentally alter the way people use energy and live their daily lives.

As a highly regulated utility, electric power has long been the recipient of state-of-the-art technology advances, including high degrees of machine communication and control. This has made for a highly reliable and resilient grid, but it’s not necessarily the most efficient or flexible. As such, it is a prime target for a healthy dose of network intelligence and software-driven automation.

The New Advanced Metering Infrastructure

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, there are nearly 52 million smart meters installed in the United States, and this is only the beginning of what will emerge as new advanced metering infrastructure forms the heart of the smart grid. Power companies have long had the ability to monitor boxes from afar, but the new smart meters deliver data of an entirely different magnitude, giving administrators deep insights into everything from grid conditions and potential trouble spots to consumer demand and usage patterns.

Smart Management for the Smart Grid

However, this is placing new requirements on the networks on which utility companies rely to ensure a steady, uninterrupted stream of information between edge devices and processing. According to Energy CIO Insights, the utility data network must transition away from the high-latency, batch-oriented jobs of today toward the more asynchronous, stream-based data flows of the Internet of Things.

The biggest challenge will likely be the integration of various operational tasks, such as grid control and status monitoring, with emerging IT functions such as digital network management and analytics. At the same time, the network will need to be purpose-built for broad scalability, a high degree of automation (if not autonomy) and standards-based security, compliance and other components. For many utilities, this will require changes at multiple points on the network, from grid application servers and network controllers to endpoints and possibly in-home devices.

All of this requires a fairly sophisticated management stack, of course, particularly when it comes to the actual grid operating environment. According to Utility Products, the smart grid will not only be more distributed and automated, but interactive, self-healing and traceable to every electrical device it touches. This will require a smart grid network management system that provides visualization, business logic, distributed processing and built-in geospatial and asset management capabilities. Since this is a multi-tiered entity, the system should maintain well-defined and documented interfaces between each tier, along with broad support for leading network protocols and standards to maintain a wide range of high-quality services.

Make Way for Smart Cities

However, these capabilities are not limited to just the electrical grid; everything from water and traffic to snow removal and waste disposal are ripe for smart technology. Urban planners are partnering with technology companies to improve efficiency, sustainability and overall livability in some of the world’s most congested cities, according to Memeburn. This enables less costly and more efficient delivery of services and reduces the impact on both local and global environments. With big data analytics and widespread sensor-driven monitoring at their disposal, cities such as Glasgow, Boston and Singapore are able to drill down into the causes of daily hassles such as traffic gridlock, power outages and even some forms of crime to create multipronged strategies to alleviate them.

Living in a world of smart devices may be unnerving to some, but the reality is that populations are growing and urban areas are spreading. As such, utility providers and city planners must find more efficient ways to function if they want to keep costs down and morale high.

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About The Author

Arthur Cole

Freelance Writer

With more than 20 years of experience in technology journalism, Arthur has written on the rise of everything from the first digital video editing platforms to virtualization, advanced cloud architectures and the Internet of Things. He is a regular contributor to IT Business Edge and Enterprise Networking Planet and provides blog posts and other web... Read More