Partnering to Bring the Latest Networking Technology to the Smart Grid – and Make It Even Smarter

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In a previous guest blog post, I discussed the partnership between Schneider Electric and Alcatel-Lucent and the success we were having in the area of substation automation. But our work as a Schneider Electric EcoStruxure Technology Partner is now expanding to address modernization of the entire power grid, making it more suitable for the clean energy era.

Power utilities rely on their communication infrastructure to ensure flawless distribution of electricity. Traditionally, they deployed time division multiplexing (TDM) networks to support critical applications. Today those TDM networks are becoming obsolete; for years transmission system operators (TSOs) have been replacing them with networks based on Internet protocol (IP) technology that reduces maintenance costs and enables them to deploy new applications.

These IP networks are not based on the classic Ethernet layer 2/3 technology we all use at home and in the office, but on an IP standard called Multi Protocol Label Switching (MPLS). IP/MPLS is the only technology able to support mission-critical TSO applications like SCADA and teleprotection, which involves crucial data for managing power loads and protecting against faults, across complex wide-area networks.

IP/MPLS provides all the key features TSOs used to get with their aging TDM networks, including traffic segregation and engineering, low latency, fast recovering time in case of network failure and the ability to manage quality of service (QoS) on a per-application basis.

While the IP/MPLS has been used for some time on high voltage transmission systems, it is now hitting the medium and low voltage distribution part of the power grid as well. That’s because distribution system operators (DSOs) are facing new challenges introduced by renewable energy sources, which are distributed all over the grid, as well as electric vehicle charging, energy storage and demand response programs. To ensure reliable and smarter power delivery, utilities need more visibility and control over the low voltage grid.

That means a real-time exchange of information is becoming as vital for the outer reaches of the grid as it is for high voltage core, driving the need to extend IP/MPLS all the way to the low voltage portions of the grid. IP/MPLS provides key benefits for the low voltage grid, including the ability to build a ubiquitous communications network able to securely carry both critical operational data and less time sensitive traffic such as smart metering data.

Alcatel-Lucent is supporting end-to-end IP/MPLS in some new routers – hardened, weatherized, compact versions of our 7705 Service Aggregation Router – that we install in substations outfitted with Schneider Electric equipment. It’s another concrete example of how EcoStruxure Technology partnerships are helping companies deliver on the promise of the smart grid – and enabling utility companies to provide the types of reliable services their customers need.


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