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The debate on what technologies and standards should be used as the foundation for the future Smart Grid is heating up. Multiple vendors and industry organizations are pushing their own (often incompatible) views of the Smart Grid.
Even if we focus only in the area of communications standards for Smart Grid, we find different options being proposed: high-speed and low-speed powerline technology, IEEE 802.15.4, cellular networks, WiMAX and many others.
Smart Grid networks will be hybrid networks
Although at DS2 we think that high-speed powerline networking technology is the best positioned to deliver a scalable platform for SmartGrid, other technologies also provide benefits in specific scenarios (for example, in cases where a utility wants to manage water or gas meters that don't have a power connection), so many utilities may need to use a combination of multiple technologies to build their Smart Grid.
Utilities will deploy different types of hybrid Smart Grids:
Using one technology in the smartgrid backhaul and another technology in the smartgrid edge:One example of this configuration could be using Broadband over Powerline Medium Voltage power lines as a backhaul, and using IEEE 802.15.4 at the edge network to connect the Smart Meters.
Using multiple technologies in different parts of the edge network:For example, using cellular technology to provide connectivity to Smart Meters installed in areas where cell coverage is adequate or where real-time communication is not required, and using powerline technology for Smart Meters installed in areas with spotty cell coverage or where real-time communication is needed in order to implement real-time demand side management.
Using multiple technologies for home area networks:This will be common in situations where we may want to manage Consumer Electronics devices which may be connected to a home networking using G.hn, Wi-Fi or other types of home networking technologies.
The problem that many utilities face is that each communication technology often comes with its own management protocol. If a utility uses three or four different communications technologies for its Smart Grid, it may end up with three or four different management systems that don't talk to each other.
Unified IP-based management systems for Smart Grid
There is an easy solution to the problem of managing systems based on incompatible technologies: TCP/IP. The TCP/IP protocol suite has demonstrated that it indeed solves the problem of providing a common communication protocol for disparate PHY/MAC technologies. Today, millions of people connect to the internet using a large variety of PHY/MAC technologies: Ethernet, Wi-Fi, powerline, DSL, cable-modem, 3G cell phones and many more.
Unless Smart Grid technology is based on open TCP/IP standards, the fragmentation of multiple PHY/MAC technologies (and their associated management protocols) will hinder significantly the growth of the Smart Grid industry.
An IP-based SmartGrid means that every Smart Meter, every Smart appliance (air-conditioners, heater, dish-washer, etc), and every distributed sensor will have its own IP address and will support standard IETF protocols for remote management.
With an IP-based management system, utilities can deploy completely different PHY/MAC communication system in different parts of their grid, and still control them with a unified managememt system. There are dozens (if not hundreds) of vendors for IP-based management systems, so utilities that deploy IP networks will not be locked to vendors that provide vertically-integrated solutions.
As we wrote in this blog a few weeks ago:
DS2 is doing its part to facilitate this: all DS2 powerline chips for Smart Grid applications come with an embedded network stack with full support for the most popular IP protocols (TCP, UDP, HTTP, TELNET, FTP, TFTP, SNMP, DHCP) and provide the strongest encryption available in the industry, with options for Triple-DES, AES-128 and AES-256.
Using DS2 Smart Grid products, utilities can securely assign an IP address to every smart meter, transformer and substation and use standard TCP/IP-based management tools to control their networks.
DS2 is not the only one promoting an IP-based Smart Grid. Cisco recently announced its plan to "establish a complete communications fabric from electrical generation to business and the home based on Internet-Protocol standards." IETF has also developed standards to adapt the IP protocol to operate over energy-efficienct PHY/MAC technologies not originally optimized for IP. One example is the "6lowpan" project, which has specified (RFC 4944) "Transmission of IPv6 Packets over IEEE 802.15.4 Networks".Utilities that deploy an IP-based Smart Grid will be in the best position to enjoy the high rate of innovation (and competition) focused around the TCP/IP protocol suite.
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