The ASEAN and global utility industry has evolved into a much more complex sector than ever before. The nuanced and challenging nature of the industry ensures power companies must be flexible to meet the demands of today. The modernisation of the ASEAN grid requires innovative tools to drive change and remove many of the energy sector obstacles of today. ‘Last mile’ electrification is a daunting task so communication should be made an imperative part of every utility company’s strategy.
The Importance of ‘Last Mile’ Communication
“Closing the ‘last mile’ is one of the most challenging communications aspects of grid modernization. Once this obstacle has been overcome, it unlocks a variety of use cases that can greatly improve the safe, reliable, and efficient distribution of power,” said Jeffrey Tufts, Director of Global Energy Solutions at Cisco.
Hurdles may quickly arise without the ‘last mile’ communication or Field Area Network (FAN). Without it, a grid operator would not have all of the information necessary at the substation level and only limited data on the distribution feeder network.
“It is the insights into this distribution feeder network that provide improvements to grid operations,” said Tufts said.
Wireless Field Area Networking (FAN) has become integral in the efforts to modernise the grid. FAN has also added complexity to the grid modernisation process when it comes to the FAN size.
“Because grid modernization requires a significant number of connected devices, it drives the need for a large-scale FAN. This scale can be a challenge to deploy and maintain across a utility’s service region. This is why Cisco uses network automation to support utility Field Area Networks. This automation reduces OpEx, expedites deployment timelines while eliminating human error, and ensures a consistent security posture across an entire utility’s FAN,” Tufts said.
Due to its complexity, there is no fail-safe solution for a FAN technology option that can support all field use cases. Because of this, utilities should unite all or most use cases with as few FAN technologies as possible. Decreasing the number of unique FAN networks reduces the long-term associated OpEx from support contracts, software licensing, frequency leasing, and employee support costs.
Integration of Edge Devices
Edge devices such as advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) and grid sensors in the distribution automation act as the system operator’s key to maintaining the grid’s wholeness. Without devices, integrity suffers.
“Edge devices can enable a wide variety of benefits to the grid operator such as automatic sectionalization, voltage optimization, distribution transformer condition-based monitoring, FLISR, voltage optimization, and AMI. Further, with improved telemetry from the distribution grid, the operator becomes well positioned to adopt the significant growth of distributed energy resources (DER),” Tufts said.
After joining transmission and large distribution substations, the edge devices in the distribution network provide the telemetry, observations, and capabilities that can fully automate the grid.
The Addition of 5G and Internet of Things (IoT)
Together with IoT, the utilisation of 5G in distribution automation may be a game-changer by connecting distributed energy resources (DER) to renewables (RE) and keeping the operator updated and informed. Both tools have their place in the grid modernisation toolbox and will continue to grow as crucial trends in enablement.
“We believe that future smart grid applications could benefit from the device density and the low latency machine to machine signalling that most 5G providers intend to support in the coming years,” Tufts said.
Whereas the IoT is also part of the new generation of wireless technology, like 5G, it has the vital job of connecting DER to solar power generators, wind farms, and microgrids, which will become increasingly important during the global and ASEAN energy transition.
An example is two Indonesian companies, PLN, a state-owned energy distributor, partnered with Telkomsel, the leading wireless carrier, have observed the challenges of the energy future and signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for the first commercialised implementation of the technology in ASEAN. Between the two companies, they will create an IoT (NB-IoT) network for smart meter systems under the utility’s electricity network to progress their Advanced Meter Infrastructure (AMI).
The Future of Energy Demands New Technologies
After a significant decline in energy consumption during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, demand for power in Southeast Asia is expected to rise 27% between 2018 and 2025. Edge tools, IoT, and 5G will be needed to transform the industry from the beginning stages we see now to an evolved grid with integrated RE and zero energy intermittency challenges.
“As the grid continues to be modernized, utilities should consider their digital strategy for connecting their increasingly complex distribution grid. The key strategic focus should deal with the massive scale of both endpoints and physical geography, the security of the network and endpoints, and how to create a multi-service utility network. FAN that can support all of the grid automation use cases to avoid multiple purpose-built networks that add complexity and cost,” Tufts said.