Choosing the Right Communication Architecture for Smart Distribution

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You’ve read it a thousand times – about the energy transition and the pressure for electric utilities to simultaneously accommodate new distributed generation and increase power quality, all while improving grid reliability and efficiency.

Make that one-thousand-and-one times. With that out of the way, let’s talk about the technologies that actually make the transition happen. Some of them are becoming quite affordable. But not all of them make the same-size splash when it comes to making smart distribution capabilities a reality.

Smart Distribution WP

Communication architecture is one area that can make a substantial impact on realizing a smart distribution network. That’s in addition to ADMS, volt-var control, and automatic transfer switching—but we’ll leave those for another time and focus on communication. Here’s a quick rundown of the various approaches:

No digital communication

When communication architectures lack any digital communications, fault passage indicators (FPIs) can be used to manually locate a fault area. The problem with this approach is how much time it takes to travel to the field and maybe even follow the path of an entire feeder.

Digital communication with remote monitoring

Of course it’s possible to avoid that manual effort by using an architecture that relies on central supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) software and its related components (like ADMS, in some cases). Control still requires a visit to the field, but at least operators can remotely check the status of each FPI. That’s means faster maintenance.

Digital communications with remote monitoring and control

This approach is just like the previous one, but also gives operators remote control abilities. This presents the opportunity to optimize the reconfiguration process based not only on network topology, but also load and generation status. Even better.

P2P communication

Peer-to-peer architectures are in a league of their own. That’s because they can provide stand-alone capabilities that are far more reactive than the architectures listed above, which are each based on a centralized structure. P2P communication lets every intelligent device along a feeder benefit from communicating with its neighboring devices. This opens the path to distributed automation including fault location, fault isolation or volt-var control, without the need to communicate with a remote control center somewhere, and without that control center having to coordinating control operations.

For more details about which types of architectures and components can make the biggest impact on transitioning to a smart distribution grid, read our free white paper: Transitioning to Smart MV/LV Substations as the cornerstone of Your Smart Grid.


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