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2019 Edition, 2019

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Electric Utility Communications Networks

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The past two decades have witnessed a revolution in the electric industry with the emergence of distributed energy resources (DER), advances in sensors, data networks, software technologies and the emergence of the Internet of Things. These new technologies and solutions can be utilized to help alleviate rising security threats, aging infrastructure, increasing customer demands, and a more dynamic operating environment.

One of the key solutions being overlaid with the electric grid is the use of a pervasive real-time, reliable and secure information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure. ICT enables grid operators to effectively monitor and control remote devices in end-use, distribution systems and substations using the real-time bidirectional communication data generated by sensors throughout the system.

Utilities face the challenge of using information and communication networks more effectively to manage the supply and demand of electricity. Information flow, made possible by network communications, is an enabler for improved reliability and resilience of electricity distribution, and enhanced business and operational responsiveness. To realize these benefits, utilities are modernizing their network information and communications infrastructure.

With the ever-growing need for utilities to communicate with devices in the field, legacy networks are being replaced and upgraded. Utilities are extending their networks further to enable use cases such as SCADA, AMI, voltage monitoring, fault detection, distribution automation (DA), outage detection, advanced meter reading, load monitoring, service restoration, fault isolation, and load control. However, due to differences in data volume and density, it is typical to use a layered communication network approach to isolate AMI and grid optimization application networks from grid control self-healing networks.

According to a survey by Zpryme, utilities recognize their communication networks must change to enable the next-generation distribution grid and enable a suite of use cases. Just 6% feel extremely ready with their current communication networks to support changes coming to the grid in the next five years.1

1 “Modernizing the Distribution Grid”, Silver Spring Networks, , Accessed September 2018.
ANSI/NEMA MW 1000, 2014