Grid Transition Will Need Newer Communication Solutions

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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