Electricity is a fundamental utility for the world's population, supporting basic needs as well as advanced applications and services. Electricity consumption is continuing to grow rapidly, but modernization of the electric grid industry is lagging. The electric grid must be transformed into a reliable, secure, efficient, scalable, and sustainable industry. A smart grid brings intelligence, efficiently balancing energy demand and supply, using real-time data along with edge- and cloud-based applications over a secure communications network. The adoption of Passive Optical LAN (POL) is a key enabler for digital transformation, providing a reliable, secure, and sustainable communications network and meeting strict performance parameters within the harsh environment of an electric power grid. In addition, many electric grid operators are choosing to use POL to support broadband communication services for internal use and for their customers or in partnership with Communications Service Providers (CSPs).
Electric grid systems are aging, and in parallel they are expected to supply more energy while making use of renewable energy sources to support growing demand from industries, consumers, and Smart Cities. The electric grid is a complicated ecosystem and making it smarter, more reliable, and secure is not simple. Sustainability is a key goal, but reducing peak loads while integrating renewable energy sources is a challenge.
Electric grid operators are striving to move toward smart grids. Smart grid networking enables the control of electricity flow and the detection of and response to faults, security issues, user demand, and the integration of multiple energy sources. A smart grid communications network must be able to operate in harsh environments and connect multiple sources of data and sensors as diverse as Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) and smart meter data.
Electric grid operators need to transform their End to End (E2E) communications networks. Figure 1 illustrates key features of a smart grid network.
Figure 1: Basic electric smart grid
The transformation to a smart grid will enable an electric utility grid operator to become data driven, advancing sustainability while improving operations and performance, as highlighted in Figure 2.
Figure 2: Benefits of smart utility grid transformation
POL is a type of Local Area Network (LAN) that uses fiber-based Passive Optical Network (PON) equipment for an industrial or campus facility, enabling Fiber To The Machine (FTTM) scenarios. It is based on PON technology, a widely deployed, reliable, and secure communications solution. POL uses passive optical cabling and single-mode fiber. The optical network is based on passive (unpowered) splitters, which is critical within a power grid as there is no electromagnetic interference.
As shown in Figure 3, a POL consists of an Optical Line Terminal (OLT), which can be based in the power grid's communications room, and Optical Network Units (ONUs), which can be placed throughout the grid, in generation, transmission, and distribution locations. ONUs support multiple services and functions including voice, data, and video. ONUs can also be installed within smart meter gateways.
A POL offers numerous advantages to power grid operators.
• Reliability, redundancy, security, and management. POLs are based on carrier-grade five nines PON equipment. The underlying Optical Distribution Network (ODN) can be designed to provide redundancy if that is deemed necessary. For example, redundancy can be achieved by installing dual OLTs and deploying dual links, so if one OLT or link goes down, traffic is automatically switched to the other OLT or link. Optical fiber is immune to electromagnetic interference, radio frequency, and electromagnetic pulses. PON networks are considered highly secure. They are difficult to tamper with and meet the security requirements of defense agencies. POL solutions include E2E element and provisioning management tools.
• Bandwidth, ease of bandwidth upgrades, and operations. One of the key advantages of fiber-optics-based POL is bandwidth. With PON-based POLs, higher bandwidths can be supported, and the upgrade process to 10G and beyond is simple. In addition, with POL, Information Technology (IT) departments can decide on which Optical Network Terminals (ONTs) to upgrade, based on specific bandwidth requirements. A POL network is easy to upgrade given its zero-touch commissioning features, which are commonly supported by PON equipment vendors. In addition, it is simple to bring new ONUs onto the network while adhering to security protocols.
• Capital Expenditure (CAPEX) and Operational Expenditure (OPEX) savings, covering power and space. A POL uses less cabling and fewer racks and switches than a traditional LAN. PON is a Point-to-MultiPoint (P2MP) technology: fibers are shared throughout the network, thereby lowering capital costs. The passive network in POL saves energy and promotes sustainability. A POL network can also easily cover 20 km or even 40 km, which is vital for electric grids.
• Expansion into fiber-based broadband services. A POL enables electric grid operators to provide fiber-based broadband services either directly to their customers or through partnerships with CSPs. Electric grids own rights of way, which are crucial for supporting fiber-cabling deployments. Electric grids reach almost every home, whether urban, suburban, or rural. Consequently, every home, business, or government office can be connected to broadband infrastructure.
Figure 3 illustrates a POL and the location of PON equipment throughout an electric grid.
Figure 3: A POL uses PON (OLT and ONU) equipment: Electric grid scenario
CEMIG is one of the largest Brazilian power generation, transmission, and distribution companies, supporting more than 700 cities and eight million customers. CEMIG chose POL to enable highly reliable broadband communications throughout its power grid. In addition to POL's advantages cited in the previous section, POL enables CEMIG to conduct remote, real-time monitoring throughout its power grid network. PON's high bandwidth supports high-resolution imaging, providing clear video for asset analytics. Remote monitoring saves resources and leads to reductions in downtime. According to William Dorneles Rocha, power generation and transmission manager at CEMIG:
Energy has become a significant factor in economic development and in people's daily lives. We are using digital transformation to improve customer satisfaction and service. Our stable, highly reliable energy system is backed up by a state-of-the-art optical communications network.
Energie AG Oberosterreichis (Energie AG) is an Austrian multi-utility company. It chose POL to enable voice, data, and video services. In addition, POL has enabled Energie AG to adopt a data-driven approach to energy, water, and waste management services.
POL is being adopted by power grids around the world, enabling secure, highly reliable broadband communications from generation and transmission to distribution and smart meters. A POL network can perform side by side with power, supporting real-time data acquisition and analysis, cloud-based applications, and edge computing. POL is based on widely deployed PON technologies and solutions.
POL is enabling the modernization of power grids, reducing downtime, and supporting better asset management, thereby achieving sustainability goals. POL provides electric utilities with a reliable and robust fiber-based broadband communications network for internal use. In addition, triple-play communications services can be offered to electric grid customers, either directly or through partnerships with CSPs.
Electric grid operators should study POL (FTTM) and its capabilities for enabling power grid transformation.
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