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Jan 16 2018

Utilities: Are you looking for a risk-free way to test new technologies/apps?

In recent years, a wide array of technologies have emerged that will have a dramatic impact on power utilities’ operations and business models. From the widespread introduction of renewable energy sources including solar and wind (both distributed and bulk), to rapidly declining storage costs, and transaction platforms like blockchain, these technologies have the potential to bring great disruption to the industry, particularly distribution grids. Additionally, government regulations and the growing sophistication and volume of cyber threats have added substantial complexity to grid operations as automation is deployed to remote edges of the distribution grid.

Modernizing and extending communications deeper into the grid, in conjunction with these new technologies is critical for supporting the flow of data to increase automation and maintain safe, reliable and efficient grid operations. Determining what communications capabilities to introduce with these technologies, as well as how and when to introduce them, is a substantial undertaking, and one that requires a great deal of planning. But planning alone is not enough – because society depends on power grids running smoothly and continuously, utilities cannot take the risk of disrupting operations while testing out new technologies and new applications.

Nokia has recently formed a unique collaboration to help address this challenge. We have joined with the University of Strathclyde in the U.K. to establish a long-distance utility testing environment linking Nokia’s Energy Innovation Center (EIC) in Plano, Texas with the University’s Dynamic Power Systems Laboratory in Glasgow, Scotland. Together, our two organizations have created an unmatched capability to evaluate new utility applications on a real-world utility network without putting power supplies at risk.

What’s so special about this collaboration?

This co-innovation project brings together two sets of resources and expertise that haven’t been combined in the past, but which are absolutely complementary and increasingly inter-dependent. The University of Strathclyde’s Dynamic Power Systems Laboratory has equipment needed to model and simulate complex events in the grid (including both distribution and transmission), while Nokia’s EIC hosts an end-to-end communications network that supports a wide variety of critical utility operations. Together, these systems make it possible to validate existing and future grid applications and associated use-cases in a real-world environment, something that has never before been possible.

Of course, part of the reason this capability is so new relates to geography. Historically, the process of creating a unified testing environment combining labs that are widely separated, geographically speaking, would be no small task, and involving extensive dedicated networking resources and great expense.

A long-distance relationship that works

However, the emergence of Software Defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN) technology has made it possible to securely interconnect various locations using whatever broadband Internet connections happened to be available. In this instance, Nokia has used SD-WAN technology from its venture Nuage Networks, one of the pioneers in this space, to quickly and securely link the two facilities, in effect combining the labs into a single facility.

The benefits to our customers, power utilities, are substantial. Utilities can access the resources of both labs from either location, experiencing them as a single, seamless environment. This enables utilities to mimic their current grid and communications network architecture exactly, and then modify that architecture to reflect changes they are considering making in future. This in turn provides a platform to model, test, validate and prove-in new applications, capabilities and associated business models.

Utilities can also utilize SD-WAN technology to access these resources remotely, and reserve dedicated time that they can use for their testing regime. They can, in effect, combine use of this environment as an extension of their own lab environment by combining their own resources with those provided by Nokia and the University.

What is the benefit of this approach? Faster time-to-market, with reduced risk, less need to invest in lab equipment and much greater predictability about the outcome. For utilities, who are naturally very risk averse, this new testing environment represents a sea change in terms of how new applications are introduced, giving them the confidence to embrace new technologies as they arise, without the disruption this often entails.

Customized use cases possible

To help utilities accelerate their transformation and reduce their investment in testing, Nokia (in some cases jointly with the University’s Dynamic Power Systems Laboratory) is developing use cases that identify, clarify, test and validate the key system requirements of particular applications on the grid. These use cases can be quickly customized to reflect the unique characteristics of a particular utility’s network, A variety of such use cases have been validated to date, including:

  • Distributed use of synchrophasors
  • Condition-based monitoring and predictive maintenance of wind turbines
  • Validating secure and reliable IP/MPLS communications for current differential protection (joint with University of Strathclyde)

And there are more use cases queued up for validation testing including one on wide area frequency response (joint with Dynamic Power Systems Laboratory) that will be added to Nokia’s interactive use case library.

See you at DistribuTECH 2018

Want to learn more about this joint testing environment and about the solutions Nokia offers to utilities? Feel free to visit us at DistribuTECH 2018 from January 23 – 25, 2018 at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio, Texas (Booth #3335) or visit our power utilities page to learn more.

Share your thoughts on this topic by replying below – or join the Twitter discussion with @nokianetworks using #utilities #smartgrid #missioncritical

About David Christophe

David is director of energy solutions marketing at Nokia, where he focuses on the role of modern communications for grid operations and as a foundation for an evolving utility business. More recently, David has also begun putting some of his ‘energy’ into helping oil, gas and mining companies modernize their communications networks.

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