Modernizing the Electrical Grid Part 2: Consider Communications First

June 8, 2020

Modernizing the Grid is a four part series.  Please check out Part 1, Part 3 and Part 4 now. 

Communications Systems are Critical to Manage Monster Amounts of Data, Prevent Hackers, and Increasing Customer Service

In today’s digital world, developing robust communications networks is critical to modernizing tomorrow’s electrical grids. However, communications are often overlooked when implementing new technology or processes until integration is required. This leads to inefficiencies, higher costs, and higher wasted resources when modernizing your grid.

Modern electrical grids need to accomplish three things:

  • Manage a monster amount of data coming in from numerous data collection points;
  • Prevent hackers from disrupting the system’s electrical supply; and
  • Meet growing customer expectations for both power and customer service.

Because electrical grids vary in size, location and design, developing a communications network doesn’t come down to a one-size-fits-all approach. In some cases, a single utility may need to utilize multiple communication networks to ensure overall system effectiveness.

First Step: Evaluate Your Communications System

The first step to evaluate the communications needs for a grid modernization project is to evaluate your options. Utilities should consider these components:

  • Fiber optics (rented or owned)
  • Licensed and unlicensed radio frequencies
  • Cellular
  • Satellite

Some grids may only need to use one of these types of communications. Others, may need to use all of them. There is no right answer. Cost is not only a factor, but also the access to these different types of communications based on where your grid is located.

Ensuring the right networks are in place allows new technology to communicate effectively within its designed environment as well as provide visibility of the distribution system for the utility.

Use ADMS to Manage Data Points

Increased system visibility includes managing an enormous amount of data points. It’s imperative that the architecture and processes are in place to receive, store and interpret this data. Many utilities implement Advanced Distribution Management Systems (ADMS), a software platform that integrates numerous utility systems and provides automated outage restoration and optimization of distribution grid performance.

ADMS functions include:

  • Automated Fault Location, Isolation, and Serve Restoration (FLISR)
  • Conservation voltage reduction
  • Peak demand management
  • Volt/volt-ampere-reactive optimization

In effect, ADMS transitions utilities from manual, paperwork processes as well as siloed software systems to systems with real-time and near-real-time data, automated methods and integrated systems. Additionally, an ADMS allows for the integration of new reliability and resiliency improving functions that may previously have been unavailable.

Communications at the Distribution Level

In addition to automation, communications systems can be used to increase visibility at the distribution level. Key components using these systems include:

  • Increased data points, such as power flow, device status, fault information and location
  • Phasor Measurement Units (PMUs)
  • Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI)
  • Improved state estimation

To better understand the critical nature of communications networks within a modern electrical grid, tap the expertise of Ulteig’s electrical distribution and communications experts. By designing systems that respond automatically and relay information such as power flow and line efficiencies immediately, utilities can greatly improve system reliability, reduce grid costs, and maximize energy use. Ulteig delivers comprehensive design engineering, program management as well as technical and field services that strengthen infrastructure vital to everyday life.



By Josh Guck, Grid Modernization Lead

Josh Guck brings nearly a decade of distribution engineering experience to Ulteig’s Power and Renewable markets. As the company’s Grid Modernization Lead, he supports clients throughout the U.S. in developing innovative solutions to help navigate the fast-paced changes occurring in our industry.

  • Grid Modernization


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