Adaptive Communications Technology for the Grid

Wed, 02/24/2016 - 16:58

Utilities around the world are now looking to smart grid infrastructure to solve pervasive problems like electricity theft, operational inefficiency, and unreliability. The technology par excellence is that which can be shared across multiple communication pathways, normally known as Adaptive Communications Technology. These systems can determine the most appropriate paths in the grid and adapt to changing conditions. This is attractive for utilities like CFE that have to interact with dense urban landscapes as well as lower density environments and rural areas. Developing a dynamic communication platform that can enable the flow of information across every device, link, and network can be challenging. Itron, a noted technology and service company dedicated to energy, sought to answer one question: what if a utility could deploy a network that integrates multiple communications technologies like RF mesh and PLC on the same module? If this were to happen, the module would always choose the best and fastest communication path available, and the goal posts would be irrevocably shifted.

Itron has solved the hypothesis by creating the OpenWay network platform and using Itron Riva technology. This solution is the ultimate communications infrastructure for smart grid applications, since it delivers high-speed network performance without straining connectivity. Darío Labattaglia, Senior Sales Manager of Itron, explains how the OpenWay Riva works. “This technology uses PLC and RF, which is built for the mesh network. This mesh is the communication network that meters share and the collection points decide which communication path is the most appropriate.” Traditional networks transmit data using either RF or PLC, so integrating these two modes offers efficiency and a higher probability of successfully transmitting the data. “This capability reduces network planning, design implementation time, and significantly flattens the cost curve for field area network deployments,” he adds.

This solution builds on the Cisco IPv6 multi-application smart grid reference architecture, which was jointly developed with Itron and provides plug-and-play interoperability for devices and applications running on the network. These capabilities will allow utilities like CFE to push numerous smart grid applications to the very edge of the grid and include demand response and distributed generation coordination at a sub-transformer level. “This will ultimately improve outage detection and analysis, transformer load management, revenue assurance, and theft detection,” Labattaglia details. All of these are benefits that CFE desperately needs, and smart grid technologies such as OpenWay Riva are certainly the tools of choice.