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power grid

Grid solutions for sensing, thinking and acting through digitalization

28 November 2023


Carbon reduction requirements and the falling price of renewables is causing the utility landscape to change with a greater need for digital enablement and innovation to help solve how energy is provisioned and administered. Our experience in consulting with major power utilities across the globe has brought several decades of experience in modernizing their communication systems. These communication systems play a pivotal role in connecting what will become the distributed energy resources such as campus windfarms or Photo Voltaic production of energy. Collecting together multiple generation sources is vital to create a virtual power system, and this has to work as a system. Digital services over high speed fixed or wireless technologies like xPON or wireless 3GPP are essential to build such virtual connectivity. 

The challenge from a reliability standpoint is how to integrate these new technologies while maintaining stability and balance in the grid. Digital technologies will play a key role in making this possible, responding to the problems of intermittency and the distribution of energy resources, all the while ensuring greater agility, oversight and resilience.

Substations allow us to flow power from source to consumption across large geographic distances, essentially converting voltages and power flows up or down. In new substations these systems can be dynamic and allow power to be served according to the real time demand. The digital substation is a key part of this new utility landscape. In this article, we look at the communications foundation that will enable the digitalization of substations and what network characteristics the communications infrastructure must meet.  

The smarter energy grid is built as a more dynamic system: 


We perceive the world around us via various sensations that allow us to navigate safely. Our senses inform our instincts and decision making. If you think about it, this analogy can also be applied to the energy and grid communications industry. As we build out distributed energy, we also need to measure and monitor many more cooperating inputs that are distributed. 


As humans, once we have realized our surroundings, we think how to make our lives better for example to make sure that we are warm or have enough power or fuel to warm, energise or travel. The sheer scale of the grid means this is beyond the capability of the control room engineer - systems and compute technology have to make judgements, possibly with AI, on how power is created and delivered. 


So, we sense what is around us and can react and think. If the energy grid is congested due to too much power generation from local sources or has been islanding due to disconnects or suffering low frequency, then measuring or thinking in human terms will be insufficient as this problem scales nationally. As compute technologies make judgements, traditional assets such as digital substations will need to act according to real-time needs.

Utility and energy communications networks from legacy Time Division Multiplexing (TDM) technologies to fully IP-based technologies that serve digital protocols such as IEC 61850 continue to increase as more Distributed Energy Resources (DER) become critical components for restoring power and stabilisation. In the last few years 5G and increased broadband (e.g.: GPON) have become mainstream developments for energy and utility communications, particularly where we see an increased need to connect and service grid assets.

Building more and more transmission is not always possible and so a systems-thinking approach is required. The application of industrial mobile towards grid operations simplifies this need for scale, particularly for national Private LTE and associated system operations. Mobile technology is adept at connecting at vast scales thanks to the global applicability of 3GPP standards and wide commercial availability of devices.

Whilst today many services of a functional distribution grid are somewhat individually coupled such as fault location / restoration, the advent of the 5G Private radio systems allow for an increase in edge compute and autonomy. In other words, the era of grid sensing, thinking and acting is upon us. 


About Chris Johnson

Chris Johnson is the Senior Vice President and Global Head of Enterprise at Nokia. A veteran sales and business leader, Chris focuses on delivering critical network solutions for the world's most essential industries.

About Nokia

At Nokia, we create technology that helps the world act together.

As a B2B technology innovation leader, we are pioneering networks that sense, think, and act by leveraging our work across mobile, fixed and cloud networks. In addition, we create value with intellectual property and long-term research, led by the award-winning Nokia Bell Labs.

Service providers, enterprises and partners worldwide trust Nokia to deliver secure, reliable and sustainable networks today – and work with us to create the digital services and applications of the future.

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