Tait Podcasts: #5 – GridLink, SmartGrid and Distribution Automation

podcast5It’s been a long time in the making, but the fifth podcast has finally arrived. In today’s new podcast, Evan Forester discusses GridLink, SmartGrid and Distribution Automation with Philip Mullins, Solutions Marketing Manager.

In this podcast we discuss the following:

  • Why is Tait focusing on industry solutions?
  • Why is DMR the platform we are building our Industry solutions on?
  • What is GridLink and how is it related to SmartGrid?
  • How does Distribution Automation impact consumers?
  • Is anyone doing this already?
  • EA Networks and the use of GridLink for fault detection, isolation and service restoration.

We’re going to try something a little different with this subject due to the large amount of subtopics within the DMR Tier 3 Industry Solutions. This podcast is the first topic in a series of 6 conversations hosted by Philip Mullins and Evan Forester.

Each podcast in the series will delve a little deeper into Industry Solutions based topics, such as: Distribution Automation – Energy Management, Remote Asset Management, GridLink Business Case Tools, along with a handful more.

To stay up to date on new podcasts and the latest industry solutions based information, remember to follow the blog via email. Don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast (iTunes link), or you can listen by clicking below.

The full transcript is available below the podcast.

As mentioned on the podcasts, you can learn more about Tait GridLink in our client story about EA Networks.

Podcast Transcript:

Evan: Hello everyone, and welcome once again to the Tait podcast! I’m Evan and I’m here with Philip Mullins. And, look, it’s been awhile since we’ve done one of these, but we’re excited to be back. We’ve got a great collection of content that we’ll be giving you guys over the next few months. So with that, let’s get started. Philip, how are you?

Philip: I am good. How are you, sir?

Evan: Excellent. And could you just tell people a little bit about who you are and what you do?

Philip: Sure. I’m Philip Mullins. I am part of Bruce Mazza’s solution marketing group. I am focused on DMR Tier III, our digital platform for industrial business users, as well as GridLink, the product that is part of our new applications for DMR, as well as the utility industry as a whole. So I have cross-functional areas.

Evan: Okay, and it’s good that we’re talking to you because today we’re going to be talking some about these DMR Tier III industry solutions and really doing an introductory to things like GridLink, and SmartGrid, and distribution automation, and the first question I want to ask you, could you define what you mean by industry solutions and then talk a little bit about why Tait is focusing on industry solutions?

Philip: Sure. Yeah, the way that I would think about it is first off the standards tend to naturally segregate our customer segment, so we have public safety, and P25, and then everybody else in DMR. And that’s generally because the standard for P25 was written by public safety. It’s really focused in on interoperability across lots of different public safety entities, fire, ambulance, police, whereas DMR is more broadly developed around the industrial users, utilities, oil and gas, mining, the traditional land mobile radio users. So we start with that division and then we look at across industries we deliver common services around dispatch and voice. So if you think about the breadth of functions a company or industry performs, like utilities as an example, when we’re doing just voice, we’re touching just a small part of that company. When we’re doing more, we can start to broaden our touch point to that customer, to that industry, and for us, it gives us an opportunity to drive more value into our infrastructure, as well as grow our business. So it’s really a way of creating more value with our infrastructure and then it’s also about solving very unique problems for the industries we serve that can then help us grow our business.

Evan: Okay, so you mentioned P25 for public safety and we’re pushing DMR for our industry solutions. Why did we decide to push DMR? Why is that the best platform for industry solutions?

Philip: So it’s really interesting and I don’t think that people quite see the simplicity of all this. DMR is essentially narrow band GSM cellular. It just works in a narrower channel, has less bandwidth, but functionally it does all the same stuff. It does digital quality voice, it does location services, it does short messaging, and it does data. And so, and it was developed by the same standards body. They got to reuse a lot of the GSM work to get a standard out there that made sense.

The beauty of it also is that it delivers not only these functions, but it increases the capacity of the narrow band channels. So instead of a single voice conversation going on, you can now have two time slots in that same channel and you could do voice and data, or you could do two voice calls, or whatever you want to do. So you’re doubling the capacity of the system just by implementing the digital part of it. And it lends itself… The standard was created in such a way that it’s what I view as a platform for innovation. If you look at our system and the way it was put together, at the center of it, we have something called the node. That node is our interface to the external world. And then we also have this interface to base stations, to mobiles and portables, to dispatch consoles, to other things. And that’s the internal facing world. In most land mobile radio, we don’t use that external world very much, maybe for telephone and internet, but we’ve never really taken full advantage of what it can mean for an industry. And so that’s what we’re starting to do. That’s what the industry solutions are all about. How do we plug into other parts of the business in the industry we serve to deliver new value off of this common investment in private radio?

Evan: I think that’s really interesting. And I know we’ve had a couple conversations about just how many possibilities there are with the DMR network, so yeah, I think it’s really exciting what the possibilities are.

Philip: Yeah, it’s interesting. One of the great parallels here to the industry we serve, so we have this new infrastructure and can do all these new things. Utilities are getting their infrastructure in the forms of new poles and wires, new switches, and reclosers, and transformers, and all these different grid components. All of those components today are smart. A pole that can tell you when it’s leaning. A wire that can tell you when it’s sagging. A switch that can not only tell you if I’m open or closed, but I can tell you what the voltage is, what the current is, and if you really wanted to get fancy, I could present to you a waveform with lots of data points that give you an idea of power quality and the impedance of a line. Lots of different factors that can be derived from these devices that are basically replacing mechanical devices today. They don’t have to be connected. They still do their mechanical thing, but if you want to connect them, if you want to use them as sensors, as an internet of things, as a smart grid, then you can. And that’s what Grid Link is. Grid Link is that connector to these embedded smart capabilities of physical infrastructure, through our DMR Tier III infrastructure, to their application environment.

Evan: Yeah, so just to transition forward. I mean, we’ve been talking about the different applications that are possible. We haven’t gotten that specific, but you mentioned GridLink and SmartGrid. Could you go into a bit more detail, what is Grid Link, how is it related to the smart grid, why does it work on the DMR Tier III platform?

Philip: Sure. So GridLink is first and foremost an application, and GridLink is simply an industry term we’re applying to that application. The application is more generically a SCADA gateway that runs as a virtual machine on the same platform our node software does for our infrastructure. So we’re able to essentially create this protocol interface to a SCADA network. A SCADA network has a host application environment, part of the external world, if you will. And we threw an interface, as defined by the standard, can integrate with that and communicate in its native language instead of ours. So we’re adapting a communication protocol to DMR through that SCADA gateway. And then GridLink also has a data terminal which is essentially a mobile with a new interface panel. And what we’ve done is we’ve increased the compute capacity of the network itself, where the application sits, and we’ve created compute capacity at the edge where the interface panel sits in the mobile. And with that compute capacity, we’re able to do things like dynamic protocol translation and packet optimization, so we’re able to utilize as efficiently as possible, the radio channel to transport SCADA communications, and it’s a very smart, very clean way of doing it. It’s taking advantage of just these inherent capabilities of DMR.

Evan: So the simplest answer is GridLink is a method for transporting SCADA data across the DMR network, correct?

Philip: Correct. And GridLink is a broad term for connecting all these smart devices that are showing up in the grid and then using that data in a smart way to improve how you operate the grid. But I would say smart grid is much broader than these other concepts like distribution automation which is a part of the overall utility structure, but it’s also very common. It’s one of the more cost beneficial initiatives utilities take on because it’s got a tremendous return on investment.

Evan: Have you explained what SmartGrid is and how it relates to GridLink?

Philip: So, yeah, I mean, the main idea is that SmartGrid is this broad set of use cases that affect the generation of electricity, the transmission of electricity, and the distribution of it, as well as the metering of it. It as a basic part of it requires connectivity, so you’re going to have an application environment, you’ll have analytics in the back office, but then you’ll have devices that are in the field that are measuring and providing you status and operational awareness of the system. So that’s smart grid as a broad statement. And the ideal scenario is that my generation understands what’s happening at the meter. It’ll have information flow sufficient that I know when to turn up generation or when to turn it down based on meter data. Now that’s very complex and nobody is there today, if you will, but, conceptually, that’s where it goes to this fully orchestrated grid. And that’s the essence of SmartGrid. And then distribution automation is a subset of that.

Evan: In just a second we’ll talk about distribution automation, but I do think it’s worth highlighting something you said a few minutes ago, that we call it GridLink and this is a utility solution right now, but we can use that same SCADA data transmission abilities in other industries we’re seeing.

Philip: Absolutely. In fact, when we released GridLink, we released it with two protocols that are being supported. One is IEC6870104 and 105. It is an electric utility specific protocol, but then more generically we’re releasing DMP 3 which is also commonly used in utilities but is also used in mining, and oil and gas, and industrial control systems that support petrochemical plants, all kinds of environments. So common land mobile radio users that also have this common use of industrial control systems, that GridLink can communicate with. And we will simply remarket GridLink in some other name with the same underlying technology, and it will enable us, frankly, to just have a much broader offering that’s very intimate to the industry we’re trying to serve. So it will feel and look like it was built for them, but it’s built around a common concept of industrial control systems and using land mobile radio to support that.

Evan: So, yeah, there’s quite a few different industries where this technology can really help people, but for the sake of time, we obviously need to keep it focused, and so we’ll keep going down the utilities routes and talking more about GridLink. So how does distribution automation actually impact the consumer? So the utility business is worried about keeping their customers happy, keeping the lights on. How does Grid Link or distribution automation impact their consumers?

Philip: Distribution automation is one of the use cases, [public] use cases that is the most apparent to consumers. In other words, you see it all the time but it’s avoiding the negative. It’s not having your lights go out when, under normal circumstances, they would have. So it’s pretty hard to quantify the value of not losing your power but there are actual metrics to that. And so distribution automation, one of its big use cases is this idea of automatically detecting a fault. Did a branch fall on a power line? Did a car knock a power pole over? Did a transformer explode? All of these kind of events are very common. They happen all the time throughout the grid and distribution automation is enabling them to identify that quickly. They can detect certain values from the devices that are out there that they’re polling. They can correlate that to a library of scenarios and fault conditions, and they can extrapolate what just happened. And 90% of that is automated today. And it will present to them transformer X has a low voltage condition and here’s the probable causes.

That kind of automation and analytics occurs on just the very first input. And then the utility also has something called a state model and this ability to run scenarios. So somewhere along the way, they have run a scenario to a math model that said, “Power goes out here, what do I do?” And it will produce switching schemes. And the switching schemes are meant to isolate the fault and restore power to as many people as possible. And so that process of constantly knowing the state of the grid, that ability to sense an abnormality, categorize it, apply experience type knowledge to it to then extrapolate the fault, and then make the right switching decisions to isolate and restore power can all be automated. It doesn’t have to all be automated, but it can be. And just different pieces of that being automated like just the fault detection and analysis piece, is an incredible time saver.

So not everybody takes automation to that full circle of sense and control. Some of them do sense, report, and then based on the report, they will do control… independent. And there’s an example of that in the EA Networks. But, yeah, it’s very common. When there’s major outages, you will notice now that power is restored within five minutes, and if it’s not, then it’s several hours. But there is very little margin in between that because automation occurs within five minutes and if you’re not a candidate for automation, then you’re being impacted by a major outage.

Evan: Yeah, I think we’ve probably all experienced that. So you mentioned EA Networks. Is that an example of someone who’s using their DMR network to run something like GridLink?

Philip: Exactly, and in fact there’s lots of people doing distribution automation. We’re just now getting GridLink into that picture. We’ve got EA Networks, a very close customer of ours. We’ve done a lot of work with them in the past. We’re helping them modernize their voice environment. We added location to their environment, now we’re doing GridLink. They have had it going through at least two major events in which they were able to demonstrate immediate value. Detected the fault, provided the ability to isolate the fault, and the ability to restore power. So it’s definitely been demonstrated twice at EA to real world conditions and is, again, the fact is that we’re not talking about a secondary infrastructure. We’re talking about something that runs on an existing infrastructure that supports their voice, supports their workforce location. So, again, it’s almost icing on the cake in terms of the business value you’re getting from this incremental investment in GridLink.

Evan: Yeah, we actually saw a news story on this the other day. They had, I think, minus 20 degrees Celsius weather in their network and some power outages happened because of that, and they just talked about how they were able to get it back on faster because of GridLink, and so it’s an actual news story. We’ll link to it in this podcast, in the podcast notes, if people want to check it out. But it was really cool to see that it’s out there, it’s working, and it’s making a difference to people who need power.

Philip: It is a great example of this SmartGrid use case. It’s fault detection, isolation, and service restoration. They’re not fully automated, in other words, they’re doing that fault detection and analysis in an automated way, but then because they’re relatively small, they’re able to look at the information, look at their different switching scenarios that they have available to them, and execute what they think’s the most appropriate. The beauty of it is because it’s also monitoring the distant end, it tells you when you fixed it. You don’t have to drive out there to see did that work. You’re able to actually collect data remotely that’s confirming service restoration in a way that, it used to be customers. I mean, honestly, a year or two ago, when there was an outage like what they had, the way they found out is people called them. Today, they’re monitoring the grid, they see the voltage drop off from one substation to another, they know a power line is down instantly. They’re able to isolate it to a specific area. They can tell you from their data if there’s trees around there, and most likely a branch got ice on it, fell across the power lines, created a short circuit, instantaneously and tripped relays. They can do a lot of analysis remotely now that really saves them time and money. Quite a good story for us as well.

Evan: Okay, well, hey, we’re running out of time here, Philip, but I know this is the first in a series that you wanted to do and we’ve touched on some topics. Over the next few, I think you wanted to go into a bit more detail. Could you just highlight some of the topics you’ll be covering in the future?

Philip: Sure. So right now I’ve been focused on utilities, so the next one is really distribution automation around energy management. So we’ve talked about distribution automation in this one in the context of fault detection, isolation, service restoration. That’s that big use case for automation. Another one is energy management. How do I integrate renewable wind and solar? How do I deal with things like electric vehicles? So there’s a lot of automation that needs to take place that manages energy in a more discrete way down into the distribution system. Another one is remote asset management. This is a significant use case for SmartGrid. It’s not an automation type use case, but it is very important for lots of different benefits, life cycle optimization, things like that, and condition based maintenance. We also have some tools that we’ve built around a GridLink business case. So as we’re asking customers to invest in this technology, we’re able to provide them some tools that help them quantify the benefits to make sure it’s a good decision. I’ll do another session that really talks about beyond GridLink. And really, this is an opportunity to talk about things like the Internet of things, and how does that play into all of this and I will still stay somewhat specific to the utility industry, but you’ll be able to get a vision of where this goes. And then the last one is brand location awareness and workforce optimization. Again, another great capability of DMR that we need to be able to highlight and talk about because it really helps set us apart from our competition.

Evan: Okay, well, hey, thank you very much for your time, Phillip. Always a pleasure. And if you’re listening, stay tuned. Over the next few months, we’ll be talking more and more about these topics. If you haven’t yet done so, you can subscribe to the Tait Podcast on iTunes. We’re there, or you can visit the Tait blog at blog.taitcommunications.com. There’s a lot of great content there. All podcasts will be shared on that website. So thanks for listening everyone. Have a great day.

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