Electricity is something we often take for granted – until we lose it. Fortunately, there are great Utility companies all over the world who work tirelessly to ensure their grid stays online. Modern communications tools are one of the ways Utility companies can ensure a resilient grid for everyone they serve.
Without the steady flow of electricity that Utilities companies provide, our modern world quickly falls apart. Public transportation grinds to a halt, hospitals lose the ability to treat and monitor patients, computers, ATMs, and electronic payment systems stop working. Large tech companies get the spotlight for leading innovation, but without electricity nothing they create would work.
While consumers may take the importance of electricity for granted, Utility organizations never forget. They’re always looking for ways to build and maintain a more resilient grid. Critical communications contributes to this important mission in several ways, read on to learn more about the possibilities.
Simplex Radio to Radio Communications
Simply put, this is an important back-up feature which can enable communication even when parts of the network are down. Hurricanes are a consistent and powerful threat to grid resiliency. When storms like Hurricane Irma strike, the damage and destruction can be so bad that Utility companies from other states come to offer their support. For instance, in September 2017 Alliant Energy sent 200 personnel from Iowa and Wisconsin down to Florida for two weeks.
Ron Graber, Director – Operational Resources, Alliant Energy, talked about the importance of the analog talk-around feature which allows simplex truck-to-truck radio communication. Even though they were hundreds of miles outside their traditional coverage area, analog radio to radio comms “allowed all those volunteers to remain in touch with each other, coordinate and offer their support.”
When you lose cellular coverage, cell phones simply cannot make calls. LMR Portable radios, however, can continue operating in simplex mode even when they cannot connect to the network. For this reason, simplex communication is also an important back-up feature in your own area of coverage. Even though LMR networks are built with redundancy in mind, large scale disasters can still cause trouble. Enabling your people to communicate with each other through simplex mode can speed the recovery time, enhance safety, and help keep you connected when all systems go down.
Distribution Automation – Monitor and Control your Grid
Distribution Automation has improved Utility service delivery for years. The ability to monitor and control your grid increases resilience because you can identify and solve small issues before they become big problems. It can increase the speed of power restoration and reduce the number of truck deployments. The benefits are significant and self-evident, but distribution automation can pose a challenge in rural areas.
In order to transmit the SCADA data required for distribution automation, you need a reliable data pipeline. In many areas Utilities will use Fibre Optics, LTE, or other data transmitting techniques. If your grid includes rural areas, fibre optics are too expensive and LTE coverage may not be available or reliable.
In order to have their entire grid more resilient thanks to distribution automation, some Utilities are filling the coverage gaps with a DMR voice and data network. Solutions like Tait GridLink connect a radio unit to an RTU and transmit SCADA data. Because DMR is both wide area and mission critical, this option can give Utilities a more expansive and more resilient distribution automation solution for their grid. As EA Networks described GridLink, this solution is their “secret weapon” for power restoration.
Resilient and Reliable Communications
Resilient communications support a resilient grid. Having a network you can rely on, even during major storms, can give Utilities confidence in their service delivery and the safety of their staff. Dennis Buchanan, Communications Technician for Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, described it this way, “We have had numerous major storm outages since the installation of the Tait Network. In each and every case it has been robust in nature and has cut service restoral times significantly.”
There are a few reasons Tait DMR base stations are so resilient and reliable:
- On-site generators provide power back-up, which keeps the system running even during power outages.
- Base Stations are built “Tait Tough” and meet or exceed Military Standards for altitude, humidity, vibration and shock. They are certified to operate in temperatures of -22º to 140ºF (-30º to 60ºC).
- They’re rated for continuous full output power to ensure continuity of operation with smart AC/DC management.
- Should the control channel fail, then it is automatically allocated to a different base station to continue operation.
Unify the benefits of LTE with the reliability of LMR
LTE has unlocked countless new applications for Utilities to help keep their grid resilient. Whether they’re filing reports, loading images of potential problems, or checking smart meters. Utility employees can do more on-the-go than ever before.
Utilities are beginning to realize that they can get the most from LTE and LMR by unifying them through a solution like Tait Unified Vehicle. To create this converged solution, Tait took a resilient and reliable mobile radio and “supercharged” it by adding a computer board for applications, LTE capabilities, a WiFi network, bluetooth, and more. Utility workers can now be connected like never before.
- If cellular stops working, you can still rely on the LMR network such as DMR or P25.
- Utility workers can connect any internet capable device to the Tait Unified Vehicle WiFi network and take advantage of the LTE.
- Because the vehicle antenna is far more powerful than a smartphone, you can take advantage of LTE in more areas than before.
- Tait Unified Vehicle reduces the amount of hardware you need for this level of connectivity and fits inside a standard mobile radio.
- The Tait Remote Application allows workers to use their smartphone to talk through or listen to their mobile radio, keeping them connected even when they’re outside their vehicle.
If you’d like to explore some strategic methods for modernizing a grid to enhance reliability, check out the white paper Modernizing your Grid.