Advancing Utility IP Migration Takes Time and Care

Next Generation Communications Blog

Advancing Utility IP Migration Takes Time and Care

Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Contributor

This is the third in the three part series looking at how IP, which has been playing an important role in business transformation for some time, now has become critical to the utilities industry as it is leveraging the transformation of communications networks to IP to maximize smart grid deployments. In short, taking full advantage of things like smart metering and big data means to improve usage, real-time information and improved interoperability.

The future of the smart grid has unfolded slowly partially because adoption is more than a technology issue, and because while businesses want reliability, utilities demand it; a cautious IP migration is almost a given. In fact, part of the path to adoption goes through social challenges, not just technology investment.

As a GridTalk posting on managing the IP evolution inside and outside the organization, by Raul Katz, Ph.D., Director of Business Strategy Research, Columbia Institute for Tele-Information noted, assimilating the new technology on a social level is as significant as making the capital expenditures.

“Changing the business processes, training employees, adapting your organization and operations to the benefit you can derive from technology – in economics this is called the accumulation of intangible capital – means that once you purchase the systems it will take you some time to get to that point, especially in large companies,” noted Raul Katz, director of business strategy research at the Columbia Institute for Tele-Information at Columbia Business School. “It’s called the lag effect. We’ve typically seen this take three to five years, because you’re dealing with human beings and social systems.”

Source: To download GridTalk click here.

He also explained that utilities will have the most success with their IP migration if they focus on change management programs and training.

“In many cases, the programs need to be combined with incentives – not necessarily material – to adopt the new modes of operation,” he noted. “These could range from recognition to additional training activities.”

There also is the need to get it right from the beginning. This need to combine programs with incentives was a big focus for Creos Luxembourg S.A. when it embarked on an ambitious, multi-faceted IP/MPLS project for its national electricity and gas network to replace its existing TDM-based communications system. “With latencies of 5ms-6ms between connecting nodes, you have to have a very high level of control to guarantee service and performance,” noted Patrick Colling, Creos communications expert.

When Creos rolled out its MPLS network, it consulted numerous vendors and had them analyze the situation and test four current differential protections talking together over four high voltage stations to ensure teleprotection.

This methodical process took time, but it has paid off for Creos.

“Since the beginning of 2013, teleprotection has worked throughout our network without any incidents, and we can say that for us there is no difference in teleprotection between the classical interconnection and IP/MPLS,” he said.

Cyber security also requires caution.

“IP is the best-known protocol around the world, so there is absolutely the need to dedicate a lot of time to analyzing how best to bring cybersecurity into the transmission system,” Colling noted. “That took us a complete year. We analyzed it and have now finalized our design assisted by Alcatel-Lucent. It includes things like encryption, firewalls and new security features for routers. You need to analyze your services and how to secure them from beginning to end, and we are convinced that through our investments we have done just that.”

But the benefits of migrating to IP have been worth the time for Creos and others. The future of the smart grid, after all, is going to be heavily reliant on the underlying communications infrastructure transformation to all IP.

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