What 'Smart' IT Managers Should Know about 'Smart' Grid

By CIOReview | Friday, March 17, 2017
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The recent trend of Grid modernization is making a sharp impact on how networks of transmission lines, substations, transformers and more can transmit electricity from the power plant to your house or businesses. Today, through the multiple transformations around electric meters, sensors and synchrophasors, technicians have stretched electric grid’s patchwork nature to its capacity; one that can automate and manage the increasing complexity and electricity needs of the 21st Century.

Much in a way that a ‘smart’ phone functions, a ‘smart’ grid is an energy grid added with bi-directional digital communication technology to devices associated with the grid. And, just like traditional power grids system, smart grids also consist of moving parts that are highly efficient in design and function. There are intelligent appliances, smart power meters, smart monitoring and control, smart power storage solutions, and much more that support smart grid. However, before all the operations go completely online, all those technologies may take some time to be perfected, equipment installed, and systems tested.

Smart grid is not just about utilities and technologies; it is powered by information for users to make choices about the energy use. The entire interface between the users building automation network and the utility feed has become intelligent, and is giving rise to new management and security challenges in automation.

Why Businesses Should Care?

A demonstrative and extensive vision of smart grids connects businesses with near real-time flows of information about power transmission, pricing, and consumption. The collected data allow utilities to manage the entire electricity system as an integrated framework and help businesses to reduce the energy costs for consumers, accordingly. With smart grid technology, predictive information and recommendations on how to best manage the power delivery and consumption can lower overall expenditures.

IP-based systems and applications are a key trend in this space that holds great promise for improving the efficiency of metering and managing electric power. In essence, standardization is occurring at three layers in the protocol stack:

  • At the application layer, where standardization is applied in the areas of logic, data structures and messaging.
  • At the physical and data link layer (standards include ZigBee, Wi-Fi, LonTalk, RS-485, Insteon, C-Bus and OSHAN).
  • At the network layer–standardizing on Internet Protocol (IP).

As the smart grid coalesces into a coherent protocol stack, rapid adoption of IP will provide an opportunity for energy companies to optimize and make power delivery more efficient by enabling better decisions through more timely information.

What Should IT Managers Know?

The introduction of IP coincides with the merging of facilities and information and communication technologies. Businesses are introducing automation into homes and buildings, and the resulted networks are increasingly run by the respective IT departments. The worldwide adoption of the Building Automation and Control network (BACnet) protocol has unlocked the scope for change improvement in automated control systems. BACnet allows the BAS to communicate directly with disparate systems and create the opportunity to integrate the operation of formerly independent systems.      

Moreover, rapidly evolving IT trends today—such as cloud computing, IoT, and AI—are helping the building automation system or BAS to improve drastically. For instance, if your air-conditioner behaves abruptly, the facility managers for building can easily track the malfunction/error and take required action in a timely manner.

During the next decade, the number of smart cities—with the smart grid supply—is forecasted to rise substantially. Whether you’re a part of utility or enterprise or any office, smart grid would surely reach into your network, bringing new opportunities and challenges.

Putting it succinctly, building automation system shall be supported on your IT network infrastructure in the near future, if not available now. Managing and securing this new network would require new skills, new hardware and software tools in premises or in the cloud.