Duke Says Smart Grid Communications Networks Should Include a Mix of Technology Options

There is “no silver bullet to address the communication needs of utilities,” and utilities need to “use all tools in the toolkit,” noted David Masters, Manager, Technology Development at Duke Energy. Masters spoke on Wednesday’s highly attended UTC webinar that looked into the challenges of utility communications network modernization. He discussed how Duke confronted the task of integrating millions of discrete points and devices that are part of its envisioned digital grid architecture. Commercial service providers’ cellular networks were used to create connectivity within the utility’s Wide Area Network (WAN) that enables communications between the enterprise data center and back office. At the same time, he explained that other portions of the network will use other types of communications technology. It was noted that gaps or limited availability in the cellular network are addressed by building in redundancies via a separate, Node-to-Node (N2N) communications system that the utility hold full control over. Masters reported that this N2N network leverages a Wi-Fi with mesh capability (802.11s), and a low frequency, lower bandwidth power line communication solution providing circuit level capabilities was also being considered. Masters noted that there is no one solution to creating an effective utility communications network, and each utility needs to take this effort on a case-by-case basis looking at its own demographic and geographical needs. These points were also made by LightRiver Technologies’ Chief Technology Officer Dean Campbell, who provided an overview of the technology options for utilities who need to modernize their infrastructure communications models. He discussed the economics of using packet services, especially the challenges of transporting TDM over packet, and how options such as Ethernet tag switching, PBB-TE, MPLS and the use of carrier Ethernet can support utilities’ overall needs to ensure reliability and performance.


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