Renewables and new billing mechanisms, such as net metering, are creating a significant gap between power generation and consumption. But intelligent distribution automation operating over a converged field area network (FAN) can help utilities match supply and demand more proficiently to manage the so-called duck chart
The duck chart has been a hot topic of discussion in the power generation industry since it was first published in a Department of Energy report in 2013. Named after its distinctive shape, the curve shows a timing imbalance between peak demand and renewable energy production in California over the course of a day. At midday, there is a deep drop in net load caused by an oversupply of solar power, while net load increases steeply starting in the late afternoon as solar power fades and demand increases.
Four years and many reports later, it is obvious that the duck chart is not just a concern in California. Any smart city infrastructure that includes a renewable energy supply will face this issue. Fattening or flattening the duck requires more oversight and continuous control of the electricity utilities distribute.
FANs Enable Intelligent Distribution By deploying field area networks (FANs) that enable the advanced communications needed for intelligent distribution automation, utilities can balance the grid. For example, utilities can use synchrophasor phasor measurement units (PMU) in the grid to measure voltage and current as frequently as 30 times a second. FANs provide the communications capabilities needed to enable this intensive, grid-wide stability assessment. They allow utilities to optimise operation and production processes, and match electricity demand with supply continuously.
However, although FANs play a crucial role in grid operations, the way they have been deployed to date complicates efforts to create more intelligent distribution.
To support different grid applications, some utilities have deployed discrete, purpose-built FANs based on technologies that are either narrowband, proprietary, or using unlicensed or lightly licensed spectrum. For example, a power utility may have one FAN for advanced metering infrastructure, another for line monitoring, and a third for synchrophasor. Each FAN is typically based on different networking technologies and requires its own specific maintenance and support processes.
As a result of this FAN deployment approach, many utilities now have multiple discrete communications networks that must be managed and maintained separately. This creates higher operations and maintenance costs. It hampers control, co-ordination, and communications between various grid applications. It becomes a barrier to application integration. And it stalls future innovation.
A converged FAN built on LTE and Internet Protocol Multi-Protocol Label Switching (IP/MPLS) broadband technologies breaks down today’s FAN siloes. It provides reliable, secure, and scalable managed communications over a unified network infrastructure. It also fosters integration of current grid applications, like advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) and synchrophasor, to make the grid intelligent and responsive.
Consequently, power utilities can integrate green energy seamlessly and manage distribution grids proficiently to resolve the duck curve’s imbalance between energy production and consumption during the day.
The foundation for a converged FAN is already in place. Many utilities worldwide have already deployed IP/MPLS technology to build their mission-critical wide area networks (WANs). By coupling IP/MPLS with LTE, a global and standards-based broadband cellular technology that uses licensed spectrum, utilities can extend IP/MPLS wirelessly from the WAN to the FAN. This will allow utilities to interconnect field devices with control and management systems in substations and operations centers.
Ultimately, by providing anywhere-to-everywhere FAN/WAN broadband connections, a converged FAN enables meshed machine-to-machine (M2M) and future Internet of Things (IoT) communications. In the meantime, it can play an integral role in managing the duck chart more proficiently.
Fai Lam is responsible for promoting Nokia’s IP/Optical Networks portfolio to enterprises and governments. A seasoned professional in networking and communications technology, Fai has been helping industries such as power utilities with their transformation projects. He has held positions in product development, product line management, business development and marketing. His marketing campaigns have resulted in major market penetration and product awards. Fai holds a B.Eng. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Victoria in British Columbia, an MBA from the University of Ottawa, and is a Registered Professional Engineer in Ontario, Canada.
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