Home5GHow 5G slicing and edge computing will transform smart grids (Reader Forum)

How 5G slicing and edge computing will transform smart grids (Reader Forum)

Wireless smart meters have transformed the management of electricity, water, and gas supplies to homes and businesses. By some estimates, smart electricity meters have reduced electricity power consumption by approximately 5% to 15%. In 2020, there were 710 million electricity smart meters installed world-wide and that figure is expected to grow to 1.14 billion by 2026.

While smart meters have seen significant success, that is only the start of the digital transformation that is occurring in the power grid supply and management industry. As end users deploy solar panels and migrate to electric vehicles, the management of electrical power will need to be dynamically responsive. Governments and local authorities are rolling out wind farms, tidal power, and solar power plants that will require real-time, two-way communications.

From manual grid to smart grid

The deployment of IoT devices, which covers not just smart meters but also telemetry-based monitors and actuators, enables the electrical power supplier to reconfigure their network in response to changing demand and required supply. This new smart grid architecture makes it necessary to introduce a more reliable wireless communications network that requires high bandwidth, reliability, and remote deployment. IoT in the smart grid can support:

  • video surveillance of transmission lines;
  • robotic inspection of substations;
  • field operations and inspection.

Historically, twisted copper telecommunication links, and more recently fiber-optic links, have been deployed. Fiber-optic, once it is carefully installed, can provide high capacity and long lifecycle operations but deployment is costly and labor intensive.

Differentiated, deterministic 5G networks

5G can help support a robust and reliable smart grid communications infrastructure. There are a number of service requirements that need to be assured: constant uplink traffic bearing capacity, latency and jitter, packet loss rate, synchronous timing, channel availability, and non-IP transmission by electric power communication protocols. These smart grid communication links enable the smart grid to:

  • locate and isolate faults based on differences between input and output current;
  • implement automatic fault isolation and power recovery in non-fault areas;
  • support IoT modules to monitor the network in real time.

Smart grids, however, do raise the bar for connectivity within the electrical infrastructure domain. Key requirements include:

  • Constant uplink traffic bearing capacity – Assuring constant uplink capacity is critical for differential electrical protection. Each protection terminal sends its electrical measurement data to and receives data from the peer end. The terminal compares the sent and received data to determine whether a fault has occurred and whether it needs to isolate the fault. Each terminal can potentially generate constant uplink traffic of up to 890 GigaBytes pm.
  • Network latency and jitter – For an electrical power network, network latency is defined as ‘service execution duration’ minus ‘service processing duration’. The network communication link’s latency can contribute significant overhead to the service processing duration. Smart grid managers are aiming to deliver a differential electrical protection duration of 25 ms. By considering the terminal’s trip switch criteria as well as the time needed to trigger the trip switch, this requires a network latency of no more than 15 ms.
  • Packet loss rate – Operational systems on the smart grid may experience interruptions if data packets are frequently lost. If a protection terminal fails to receive packets from the peer end for three or more consecutive intervals, the terminal determines the line to be faulty. This results in the protection terminal being disabled and an alarm signal is sent to the network operations center for further investigation.
  • Clock synchronization – Multiple components in the power system have built-in clocks. These clocks, however, are rarely synchronized due to arbitrary initial values or timing drift which can have an impact on electric power services. For example, the clocks within differential protection terminals need to be synchronized. Within the power distribution network, 10 μs or less, time synchronization accuracy is required.
  • Channel availability – Power distribution networks have a significant requirement for channel availability as the availability of the communication channel determines whether electrical differential protection can operate reliably. Typically, a reliability of three-to-four ‘nines’ (99.9 to 99.99%) is needed.
  • Non-IP transmission – The smart grid’s communications links need to be able to support not just Internet Protocol (IP) but also non-IP transmissions. The smart grid will have network assets that also use the IEC 61850 standard which regulates communications for intelligent electronic devices at electrical substations and more. These different multicast groups require their own multicast MAC addresses and VLANs. 5G has the advantage that the CPE, radio access network, and core network can support 5G LAN and multicast communication based on VLANs and multicast MAC addresses.

Partitioning and authentication

Critical infrastructure must be protected from malware and security threats. It is therefore advantageous that 5G can support additional vertical and horizontal layers of security. In particular:

  • Secure partitioning – where the production control domain and the management information domain are kept on separate partitions.
  • Dedicated networks – where a collection of independent network devices is kept on a dedicated channel; this isolation strategy keeps the control domain separate from other communication networks and the public network.
  • Horizontal isolation – where a horizontal, and unidirectional, security isolation terminal is implemented between the production control domain and the management information domain.
  • Vertical authentication – where vertical encryption and authentication devices are deployed between the production control area and the WAN.

Power suppliers require self determination

Smart grids are therefore inherently complex network architectures that require considerable control over the communications layers and the network assets on it. To achieve this, electrical power suppliers require end-to-end (E2E) network slicing and dedicated edge computing:

  • Development of network slices – Electric power suppliers, telecoms, and other enterprises in the energy supply chain will need to customize and design “network power slice” solutions. This will help formulate the necessary service slice type, quantity, service area, slice capacity, bandwidth, and SLA requirements. Operations monitoring can also be performed to track the network status, locate faults, and improve service experience.
  • Edge computing (EC) customization – EC can further enhance security and isolation by enabling a dedicated user plane through the implementation of dedicated VPNs. Having a dedicated, manageable, and controllable EC network allows the electrical power supplier to monitor subscriber quantity and traffic volume KPIs, keep abreast of failure notification, manage the subscriber requirements of key customers (i.e., large power plants, substations, etc.), as well as onboard and terminate enterprise applications.

Smart grid momentum builds

While the scope of this article precludes an extensive geographical review of smart grid deployments, interest in rolling out smart grids is growing in many regions around the world. In Europe, the European Commission wants to help integrate renewable energy, further integrate a European energy market, and permit consumers to reduce their energy consumption. 

To that end it has set up the “Trans-European Networks for Energy (TEN-E)” framework. Recent European smart grid initiatives include:

  • SINCRO.GRID (Slovenia, Croatia) – A joint venture to evaluate mature technology-based solutions that enhance the security of Slovenian and Croatian electricity networks.
  • ACON (Czech Republic, Slovakia) – The ACON initiative strives to advance the integration of Czech and Slovak electricity markets.
  • Smart Border Initiative (France, Germany) – The two countries are implementing policies that allow for a more integrated energy management approach.
  • Danube InGrid (Hungary, Slovakia) – The Danube InGrid enables cross-border coordination of electricity network management with enhanced data collection.
  • Cross-Border Flexibility Project (Estonia, Finland) – The two countries wish to increase security of supply by cross-border provision of dynamically managed renewable energy supplies.

In Asia, several major smart grid upgrades are taking place in China. Three notables smart grid developments include:

  • China Southern Power (CSG) and China Mobile – The two firms set up the 5G smart grid demonstration project in Shenzhen to demonstrate a number of 5G-based grid power slice services such as: the deployment of differential protection and phasor measurement units, installation of gNodeBs to support emergency communication and online monitoring scenarios, and testing E2E network slices security.
  • State Grid and China Telecom – The China Electric Power Research Institute and Qingdao Branch of China Telecom worked with Huawei to develop a security isolation assessment solution for 5G network slices.
  • State Grid and China Unicom – In Qinghai-Henan, the partners have implemented an 800 kV ultra-high voltage, direct current power transmission project. The project is intended to support PV power generation and renewable energy transmission in China’s western regions. Intelligent operation and management are managed by a “5G+Edge Computing” full-sensing intelligent substation.

Summary conclusions

National power grids around the world are already feeling the pressure as their economies evolve, societies change, and the climate crisis demands more eco-friendly solutions. Smart meter deployments are very much in full swing, but governments and the energy sector need to digitally transform their electrical grids to make them more versatile, robust, and secure. 

5G has several technical features that can not only connect and monitor electrical equipment but also provide latency, high reliability, and secure communications. Smart grid deployments are not just taking place in Asia but also in Europe and in North America. Other markets will follow their lead.

About the author

Jake Saunders, Managing Director and Vice President, Consulting, heads ABI Research’s Asia-Pacific research division. Jake brings highly developed analytical skills to the company, combined with years of expertise in the technology market research business and a proven track record of operations management. He devotes particular attention to the Asia market in relation to its mobile operator strategic positioning, infrastructure vendors, mobile device vendors and chipset manufacturers.

About ABI Research

ABI Research provides actionable research and strategic guidance to technology leaders, innovators, and decision makers around the world. Our research focuses on the transformative technologies that are dramatically reshaping industries, economies, and workforces today. ABI Research’s global team of analysts publish groundbreaking studies often years ahead of other technology advisory firms, empowering our clients to stay ahead of their markets and their competitors. www.abiresearch.com

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