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Unified Critical Communications in O&G Sector: The era of Communications 2.0

15 March 2022, Chemical Weekly, Mr. Shriprakash R. Pandey, CMD, Commtel Networks: 

To begin with, some facts about the growth of the oil and gas (O&G) industry in India from the Directorate General of Hydrocarbons (DGH): by 2045, oil demand in the country to register a 200% growth to reach 11 million barrels; diesel demand is also expected to double by 2030; and by 2024 natural gas consumption is expected to grow by 25 billion cubic meters. Indian refining capacity is also projected to expand by 30% to 6.9-mbpd (million barrels per day) by 2030, compared to a global refining capacity increase of only 3%.

These projections clearly show the significance of the O&G sector in India’s economy for the next three decades. The policy of Department for Promotion of Industry and International Trade (DPIIT) in July 2021 that allows 100% Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) through an automatic route for O&G public sector undertakings (PSUs), and the 100% FDI in upstream and private sector refineries are clear steps to meet the expanding energy demand to take India’s economy to $5 trillion by 2025 and to $10 trillion by 2030.

The O&G industry always had stringent regulatory, design, operational, monitoring, and safety requirements, primarily arising from the presence of hazardous elements. We have supported the industry for over two decades through integrated multi-system solutions comprising numerous telecommunications, security, and safety systems.

Significant investments:

O&G infrastructure in all three segments – viz., upstream, midstream, and downstream – will see significant new investments, modernisation and capacity-augmentation of the existing infrastructure, to support increasing demand. The modern rigs, processing plants, and pipelines are becoming highly automated and increasingly complex systems. In the same period, sustainability and cybersecurity have emerged as the key issues for the O&G sector. The energy industry, worldwide, is looking for and investing in innovative data-driven intelligent solutions in every area to leverage the advances in the field of sensorization, data analytics, and artificial intelligence (AI), to ensure safe, secure, and sustainable operations.

Leveraging technology:

Traditionally, disparate and siloed communication technologies have often been deployed, operated, and managed individually in the O&G industry.  Although the industry has been historically hesitant to adapt to the latest technology, we need to leverage the advances in both AI and telecommunications while still supporting the proven legacy elements to fulfil the requirements of our modern O&G infrastructure. With the advent of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and the inherent intelligence of the edge components, mission-critical communications are no longer simply a collection of data, voice, and video transport technologies. It is now evolving as a ‘network-of-networks’ unifying the underlying communication systems and not only transporting the data, but leveraging it to enable and provide smarter, efficient, fault-tolerant, and real-time collaboration among machines and humans. This is the ‘Unified Critical Communications’ or ‘Communications 2.0’.

What is UCC?

Unified Critical Communications (UCC) is a system that utilizes different communication technologies seamlessly to accomplish the task of improving surveillance, security, safety, and operations efficiency. The objective of UCC is to optimize and automate operations by establishing a node-to-node connection between thousands of data generation points, all of which exchange data in real-time. UCC integrates disparate communication systems, automatically selects the best path for every task set, understands various options, and resultantly, it provides deep insights into its operations, facilitating better and faster decision making. UCC binds the high-speed, scalable, and deterministic data backbone with the underlying user communication to create harmony among various technologies and time-critical control protocols.

Stringent standards:

Due to the crucial nature of the O&G industry, the networks and systems for O&G are designed to extremely stringent standards, ensuring high levels of safety, security, reliability, and resiliency. These standards cover every aspect of the system, beginning from the network architecture and performance requirements, to stringent electrical, environmental, material, and equipment specifications. UCC, with deep insights and in-built compliance tools, ensures compliance to these rigorous standards and regulations. UCC has evolved into an era of Communications 2.0 and is helping to digitally empower the O&G industry by providing real-time data across systems, enabling instant, informed, and accurate decision-making. UCC utilizes the recent developments of universal data interfaces, APIs, protocol converters, cross-platform plug-ins, and advanced analytics platforms to make this synergy possible.

Requirements of UCC systems:

Despite their complex and intricate underlying nature, UCC systems must be simple, secure, and flexible to operate. UCC needs to be fail-safe, minimizing data outages, and also be future-proof, working seamlessly even when newer technologies are introduced years later into the same system. UCC increases the reliability of shared information, reduces overheads, creates better response time, and makes the operators feel more secure with trusted information in their hands. It helps them react more confidently to situations they face in the critical environment of the O&G industry.

Future of UCC:

The future of UCC blends communications and AI technologies, providing next-level data insights, deep automation, and predictions to avoid costly mishaps, ensuring the preservation of mission-critical systems. It is imperative to have an AI solution that will unify all communication assets, monitor, assess data, and implement 360-degree protection, faster and cohesively. New-age solutions will provide novel ways to deal with new threats in cyber-physical systems. Customers get the power to collect data from myriad devices and systems on a single data processing platform. Some may call this future of UCC, Communications 3.0. But for us, it is only a normal evolution of UCC.

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Grid Transition Will Need Newer Communication Solutions

7 March 2022, T&D India, Mr. Shriprakash R. Pandey, CMD, Commtel Networks: 

Telecommunication systems are applicable to the electricity value chain – right from generation to transmission, to distribution. Can we start by understanding the broad role that a telecom system plays in the electricity value chain?

We can correlate the role of the communication systems to that of the nervous system in the human body. Power systems are operated through myriads of control and automation systems throughout the power generation to delivery, all of which need communications for their operation. Be it the legacy RTUs communicating on serial protocols on copper cables, modern Industrial Ethernet networks inside control rooms and substations, high-bandwidth Fiber-Optic based ICCP links connecting LDCs across the length and breadth of the nation, or a narrow-band IoT link from a consumer smart meter, communications are everywhere.

Apart from the critical control and automation functions, telecommunication systems also provide normal business applications like LAN/ WAN, telephony, and video conferencing for the power sector entities, ensuring smooth operations from control rooms to consumer billing centers.

“Simply put, without communications, modern power systems cannot function.”

Please discuss the criticality of a telecom system in the power transmission sector, especially with transmission voltages going up to 765kV and even 800kV.

Communications were always a vital part of the transmission grids. It empoweres safety, automation, and efficiency in traditional power grids. In traditional grids up to 400kV, teleprotection (isolation of line within the stringent timeframe in milliseconds) is the most critical dependency on the communication system.

Additionally, telecommunications are vital to transport the RTU/SCADA/SAS, PMU/PDC, and Energy Metering data to and between SLDCs/ RLDCs/ NLDCs to enable monitoring and control of the transmission grids.

For 765kV HVAC and 800+kV HVDC transmission lines, safety and monitoring requirements are even more stringent than those for 400kV and below. The monitoring and control systems and special protection schemes for these transmission lines require reliable and deterministic communication systems for safe operations. Further, the HVAC and HVDC transmission lines are far longer than sub-400kV transmission lines, requiring special long-haul communication techniques.

What is the basic technical reason for using OPGW (optical ground wire) in power transmission?

OPGW or Optical Ground Wire is used in place of the traditional ground wire in transmission lines. Along with its primary purpose of shielding transmission conductors from lightning and other faults, it provides the added benefit of containing optical fibers which are used for telecommunication purposes. The fiber optic cable is an insulator and is immune to electrical induction, noise, and cross-talk, making it perfect for use with high-voltage transmission lines. Hence we use ‘optical’ ground wire.

In addition to the technical reasons, the position of ground wire (at the top of the pylon), general inaccessibility to intruders, and heavy outer construction to withstand the elements makes OPGW one of the most reliable communication media. Additionally, OPGW does not require separate right-of-way (RoW) and expenses related to digging trenches. If the transmission line already has a functioning ground conductor, then OPGW can be stringed in live condition without the need for line shutdowns. Once installed, the transmission utility can lease the spare dark fibers to third parties to earn additional revenue.

“Commtel provides end-to-end services including FEED, detailed design, procurement, integration, testing, deployment and SLA-based AMC support, through its unique 3C model.”

Please orient with the telecom-related services that Commtel provides to the power T&D sector.

Commtel is associated with India’s power sector for more than two decades. Commtel has deployed high-speed communication backbones for central, which is Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd (POWERGRID), and various state electricity transmission entities.

The high-speed backbones are implemented through SDH/PDH, MPLS, and WDM technologies. These backbone networks carry critical control data and protection signals and facilitate automation of the transmission lines. In addition to the backbone networks for transmission utilities, Commtel also provides communications (LAN, telephony, video conferencing, etc.)  and security systems (CCTV, access control, etc.) for power plants, control rooms, substations, and distribution  grids.

Commtel provides end-to-end services including FEED, detailed design, procurement, integration, testing, deployment and SLA-based AMC support, through its unique 3C (Conceptualize, Construct, and Care) model.

We generally understand that Smart Grid architecture is very closely enmeshed with telecommunication services. Please elaborate.

If you look at any established definition of Smart Grid, it includes the terms “two-way communication” or “digital communication”. Communications provide a glue layer between electrical systems of the traditional grid and smart IT systems, to form smart grids.

The traditional grids become smart when the granular visibility in every aspect of the grid operation is utilized to match demand and supply, reduce losses, and deliver power safely and efficiently to the end-user. Additionally, the smart grid allows multiple energy sources (e.g., small renewable plants like home solar or commercial wind farms or captive industrial generation plants) to coexist in the same grid along with the traditional power plants.

The smart grid architecture consists of sensors, measurement components like smart meters, controllers, and switchgear; all of which provide either information (i.e., input) or control the part of the grid (i.e., output), or both. All these components require communications so that the data they generate can be monitored and analyzed to make decisions (which are implemented by sending commands to control elements) to operate the smart grid safely and efficiently. Communications are embedded in every part of the smart grid, from transmission substations to local distribution grids, right to the level of an individual smart meter or a sensor. Smart grid cannot be in existence without communications.

Does Commtel render services particularly to Smart Grid projects?

Commtel’s portfolio of Multi-Systems Solutions includes all communications components required for a smart grid. From backbone multiplexers on transmission lines to Industrial Ethernet Networks for substations and Ring Main Units, legacy serial communication protocols to the latest wireless networks for last-mile connectivity of Smart Metering Infrastructure, Commtel provides design, testing, implementation, and support services for the end-to-end integrated communication systems used in smart grids.

We understand that Commtel successfully completed a project for a Central government transmission company. Tell us more.

Commtel is privileged to be associated with POWERGRID that has implemented One Nation-One Grid through synchronizing its five regions — NR, ER, WR, SR, and NER. Commtel has designed and deployed high-speed backbone optical communication networks for NR and ER regions (including state transmission agencies in respective regions).

The networks deployed by Commtel carry critical communications for teleprotection,  RTU/ SCADA/Substation Automation Systems, Phasor Measurement (PMU and PDC), Energy Metering, SLDC-RLDC, RLDC-RLDC, and RLDC-NLDC communication links, and voice and video collaboration. The communication networks for NR and ER regions include 450+ locations/communication nodes and over 30,000 km of fiber optic links. Commtel also maintains these networks through SLA-based AMC agreements with POWERGRID.

“The energy landscape will change considerably in the next decade compared to its transition through the earlier century.”

Please orient us with Commtel’s future plans in the field of power T&D. We would like to specifically know if there are some hitherto un-serviced areas in the power T&D segment that you are planning to address in the coming years.

To answer this, we would like to add some context first.

The energy landscape will change considerably in the next decade compared to its transition through the earlier century. With the emphasis on renewables and decarbonization to ensure sustainability, the grids will have to get smarter at the edge, right at the consumer premises.

The way to go is to harness the advances in edge intelligence and data analytics. With the advanced control systems and the explosion of data powered through IIoT sensors deployed at every level from the generating stations to consumer meters, smart grids are ready to be ‘smarter’ to deliver the next-level performance, efficiency, sustainability, and energy security.

To support smart to smarter grid transition, new communication solutions are required that can keep pace with the demands of the new smarter grids by incorporating cutting-edge developments in information and communication technologies and merging them with both the legacy power infrastructure and the latest advances. Future power grids will evolve into complex cyber-physical systems where the digital and the physical will intertwine seamlessly. The importance of the information and communication network in a smarter grid becomes far higher and more critical than in the traditional power grids.

Commtel’s focus is on the ‘Unified Critical Communications’ (UCC) solution that aims to address these requirements of future power grids.

Could you elaborate on the UCC solution?

Our UCC offering “CN-SHIELD” is an artificial intelligence software solution that unifies all communication assets, monitors, assesses data, and implements 360-degree protection, faster and cohesively. By using Unified Critical Communications, a smart grid becomes smarter, highly reliable, and flexible, and with the enhanced communication infrastructure it helps real-time information interaction, reliable asset supervision, and load management.

“With the considerable change in the energy landscape in the next decade, Commtel is hopeful of participating in significant number of projects in the next few years.”

Given that India is planning massive investment in the power T&D segment (including smart grids), how do you see the business opportunity for Commtel?

India’s power sector is one of the most diversified in the world in terms of the sources of power generation. The Government’s focus on attaining ‘24×7 Power for All’ accelerated capacity addition in the country. India’s per capita energy consumption is expected to surge three-four times over the long term. Parallel to this, India has also committed to meeting 50 per cent of the nation’s energy requirements from renewable energy by 2030. ICRA estimates massive investment in the power transmission segment at an all-India level, driven by evacuation infrastructure for RE projects.

As stated above, with the considerable change in the energy landscape in the next decade, Commtel is hopeful of participating in significant number of projects in the next few years. Our portfolio of Multi-Systems Solution combined with the intelligence that we offer though the UCC solution will allow us to position ourselves uniquely.

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Smart Grids to ‘Smarter’ Grids – The Future of Power Systems with Unified Critical Communications

3 March 2022, EPR Magazine, Mr. Shriprakash R. Pandey, CMD, Commtel Networks: One may have heard of the Smart Grid in the news, but unless you are from the utility industry, you may perhaps know what a grid is, but possibly not a smart grid. A grid refers to the electric grid, a marvel of technology – the vast network of transmission lines that one sees alongside roads and the substations, transformers, and everything else that helps deliver electricity from the power plant to your home or business. 

However, there is now a need for a new kind of electric grid that is responsive, efficient, and future-proofed. One that automates and manages the increasing demand, complexity, and electricity requirements over the next few decades. Unlike traditional electric power grids that have a one-way electricity flow, the smart grids allow two-way electricity and information flow between generating stations, transmission grids, load dispatch centres, substations, and consumers. Smart grids, the updated version of traditional ‘dumb’ energy infrastructure, are essential for the concept of sustainable future cities. 

Communications were always a vital part of the transmission grids. It empowered safety, automation, and efficiency in traditional power grids. With the advent of smart grids, the communications footprint expanded to generation and distribution portions encompassing entire power industry operations. Pioneer smart-grid technologies enabled us to improve the performance of distribution networks using smart metering and increased efficiency of the power grids by automating real-time load demand-supply to the area-level substations. Over the years, Commtel has deployed various communication technologies for national power grids and citywide distribution networks to support operations, security, and safety of the smart grids. 

The energy landscape will change considerably in the next decade compared to its transition through the earlier century. With the emphasis on renewables and decarbonization to ensure sustainability, the grids will have to get smarter at the edge, right at the consumer premises. The way forward is to harness the advances in edge intelligence and data analytics. With the advanced control systems and the explosion of data powered through IIoT sensors deployed at every level from the generating stations to consumer meters, smart grids are ready to be ‘smarter’ to deliver next-level performance, efficiency, sustainability, and energy security. 

New communication solutions are required that keep pace with the demands of the new smarter grids by incorporating cutting-edge developments in information and communication technologies and merging them with both the legacy power infrastructure and the latest advances. Future power grids will evolve into complex cyber-physical systems where the digital and the physical will intertwine seamlessly. The importance of the information and communication network is far higher and more critical than in the traditional power grids, and it is, for this reason, we call our solution ‘Unified Critical Communications’.            

The convergence of the electricity flow with the information flow is at the heart of the smart grid. By integrating Unified Critical Communications (UCC) into power systems, the grids can become “smarter” with enhanced sensing, control, and communication capabilities. For one, the UCC can help generate, collect, analyze, and react to humongous data about the robustness of the electrical grid than before. The Unified Communications span from ultra-mega traditional power plants to thousands of smart homes with low-capacity renewable energy units. The smarter grids of the future will merge the non-renewable and renewable energy sources to provide granular control over demand and supply, thus reducing energy losses and improving efficiency, translating into greater sustainability. 

Our vision of UCC is to unify the underlying communication systems by leveraging data that flows through the various channels and enabling and providing smarter, efficient, fault-tolerant, and real-time collaboration among machines and the different stakeholders. Unified Critical Communications enhances the key smart-grid concept of two-way energy exchange and communications. It provides a unified data plane across the power system layers, communicating through myriads of communication technologies and protocols. It provides a smooth interface and tight integration between the communication layers at every level of the power system and ensures the data availability to critical power automation, decision-making, and control functions in real-time, ensuring the two-way energy exchange. Unified Critical Communications for the smart grids can be seen as a ‘network-of-networks’, catering to the future smart power grids, that are themselves system-of-systems.

In a smarter grid, the individual system nodes are set up in distinct environments and have specific performance requirements based on their criticality to the overall system. Unified Critical Communications and its inherent ability to transport and transform large-scale data in various forms and formats allow utilizing each sensor and monitorable parameter across millions of disparate components, thus permitting unprecedented visibility and insights into the system operations. Unified Critical Communications allow overhauling of the traditional, scheduled, and reactive O&M procedures to data-driven proactive and predictive procedures to ensure system availability, lowering maintenance costs, extending the system life, improving efficiency, and ultimately, sustainability.

Unified Critical Communications ensures the end-to-end data flow, and it does so securely. By incorporating and integrating with cutting-edge cyber-security platforms alongside its inherent data analytics capabilities, UCC provides novel ways to deal with present-day cyber threats facing industrial networks.      

Our UCC offering, CN-SHIELD, is an artificial intelligence software solution that unifies the communication platforms across layers, monitors, assesses the data, and implements faster and cohesive 360-degree protection. By using Unified Critical Communications, a smart grid becomes smarter, highly reliable, and flexible. The enhanced communication infrastructure helps real-time information interaction, reliable asset supervision, and load management. With smarter grids, we will soon see more innovative energy services such as peer-to-peer electricity trading, consumers or consumer groups with captive renewables participating in energy and carbon-credit exchanges, and so on. Smarter grids are the answer to the future. But to make a smart grid smarter, Unified Critical Communications is not a choice, but an imperative.