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Smart Grid: Connecting (and Securing) the Dots

Smart Grid

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August 23, 2010

Smart Grid: Connecting (and Securing) the Dots

Introduction

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), world electricity demand is projected to double between 2000 and 2030, growing at an annual rate of 2.4 percent.


Governments and utilities around the world are investing in smart grids as a solution to the energy challenges this will create. While in theory the smart grid vision is taking shape, in practice the technological architecture for smart grids is still being investigated. To make smart grids a reality, requires providing two-way communications between disparate operations, from generation, to distribution to consumer premises. This requires an architectural approach to implement a communications infrastructure that provides the reliability, scale and interoperability to support multi-application and multi-vendor deployments. We believe that open standards and interoperability are key for making the smart grid vision a reality. Internet Protocol (IP) and pervasive broadband networks will form the backbone of this infrastructure, as they are flexible and resilient enough to meet the demand of the grid.

Need for Architectures

To deliver on the promise of a smarter grid whether it is integration of renewable energy sources, reducing service disruptions or more efficiently matching supply with demand; the various elements on the grid need to be

  • Observable: providing awareness of the grid’s state, and transporting sensor data and device information
  • Controllable: driving the elements on the grid to a desired state in case of an event
  • Automated: rapidly adapt to changing conditions without human intervention if needed
  • Integrated: connecting siloed utility systems and processes to deliver business benefits

To deliver this combination of distributed and hierarchical control requires a set of modular architectures for different places in the grid, such as substation networks, operation center networks, the field area and customer premise networks (both residential and commercial). These networks in turn are securely interconnected to form an interoperable and hierarchical network.

Why IP?

To achieve the level of interoperability and security that will meet the technical goals of a smart grid, its data communications network architecture must be built using standard, open protocols. The standard suite of protocols best-suited for the smart grid is Internet Protocol (IP). IP-based communications networks deliver the reliability, scalability, interoperability, security, and cost-effectiveness necessary to meet the needs of the grid.

While IP made the Internet possible, IP is not the Internet. The Internet is a public “network of networks” that uses IP and the Internet architecture. It is not the only network that does so: Corporate networks are typically private networks that also use IP, but connect to the Internet only at controlled points and are often layered on top of it. IP has been proven in some of the largest networks in the world and has already helped transform business critical operations of industries such as financial services and manufacturing. There are numerous reasons for this.

  • Flexibility: IP was developed for enabling data networks to talk to each other, and immediately addresses one of the core issues faced by the smart grid. Its original purpose was to help unrelated network systems communicate, so it was designed with flexibility in terms of protocols as well as the underlying physical connections, whether wired or wireless. IP can run over any link layer network, including Ethernet, wireless radio networks, and serial lines, providing a common, flexible way to use and manage a network composed of disparate parts.
  • Scalability: A smart grid architecture must enable communication and correlation of data from hundreds of substations, thousands of transformers and switchgear, and millions of smart meters. One of the main challenges with connecting large numbers of devices is providing a unique identifier, or address, for each device. With the introduction of Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6), the issue of running out of available addresses is resolved. With over 2128 addresses available (by contrast the number of electric meters globally is less than 231), IPv6 offers straightforward addressing and routing for even a network as big as a National smart grid.
  • Interoperability: A smart grid must connect and exchange data freely with many different types of hardware, ranging from smart sensors in home appliances to home energy meters to transformers and beyond. IP is device independent. This means that it can identify any type of system to which data is addressed and deliver it to its destination. IP can also identify the system from which the data came, so it enables the receiving device to respond back to the sending device to let it know the data has arrived.
  • Security: A smart grid also drives the need for an integrated security infrastructure. Many of the technologies being deployed in smart grid projects – such as smart meters, sensors, and communications networks – can increase the vulnerability of the grid to attack. While IP was designed to be open and flexible, and over the years more and more tools have been built to provide security in the communications that travel over an IP network. IP has the most tools for securing and managing the transport of data. Many industries have a hybrid model of secure public and private networks.

Conclusion

Our vision for Smart Grid is to use the network as a platform to provide an end-to-end, highly secure communications infrastructure all the way from generation to businesses and homes. This open, standards-based infrastructure will enable smart grid solutions for improved measurement, monitoring and management of grid operations and energy consumption at all levels.

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