Open standards paves the way for Smart Utilities
Rachel Eyres, Sales Director, Europe, Silver Spring Networks
The way that energy is produced and consumed has changed dramatically in recent years. An increase in renewable energy generation such as solar power and wind has made for a far more dynamic but unpredictable grid control environment. Consumers are now producing energy using solar panels on their houses, and there is expected to be a surge over the coming years in new technologies such as battery storage and electric vehicles, which will place an unprecedented strain on power networks. These networks now need to make the transition from centralised, one-way systems to dynamic, actively managed ones with power flowing in many directions. Yet typically energy distributors have little visibility of their networks beyond a certain voltage, making active network management more difficult.
Energy consumption and production isn’t the only thing that’s changing – due to the ever-decreasing cost of sensors and silicon, and improvements in communications technologies, utilities across the globe are now entering a bold new frontier that we know as the Internet of Things (IOT), which is helping them to achieve huge value from their critical infrastructure by delivering two-way visibility and management from the control centre to the grid edge. The opportunities to make the grid smarter than ever before for consumers and providers alike are boundless.
Smart grid networks are helping smart utilities to gain tighter control over their assets and workforce and many of them are driving far greater grid reliability by using solutions that help to identify fault locations, isolation, service restoration as well as eliminating thousands of outages. For example, in 2016 Storm Matthew hit category 4 status in Florida and affected the Florida Power and Light Company’s entire territory, but due to its investments in smart grid technology and hardened feeders 118,000 customer outages were avoided and flood monitors prevented the loss of a major substation. Customer restorations after this large-scale event were also achieved within 2 days of the storm’s passing for over 99% of customers, compared with 2 weeks or more for previous large storms in the territory prior to the smart grid investments made by the company.
There are many diverse applications of industrial IOT technologies such as those delivered by Silver Spring Networks, a promoter member of the Wi-SUN Alliance. Industry-wide collaboration is essential to the growth of the smart utilities marketplace which is far too complex to rely on just one organisation. Fundamental to this is the use of an open standards-based architecture such as Wi-SUN which allows seamless and system-wide connectivity and interoperability so that organisations can select the solutions that work best in their network.
Silver Spring Networks has one of the most widely adopted platforms in the world to connect what we call the Internet of Important Things™, and is already proving the value of this networking platform by working with utilities right across the globe to deliver secure and reliable solutions for more than 26.7 million critical monitoring and control devices.
There is no doubt that these are exciting times for IoT innovation. It will be through devices and sensors that are supported by reliable, secure, high performance communications technologies that we can continue to empower global smart utilities to improve service quality and efficiency, provide new management tools for consumers to better manage use of our precious resources, and secure a bright future for the energy industry.