IP Migration Picking Up Speed among Utilities

Next Generation Communications Blog

IP Migration Picking Up Speed among Utilities

Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Contributor

A few years ago, the idea of a smart grid and things such as smart metering was the stuff of science fiction. But thanks to recent innovations, a utility that is not working on a migration to IP is behind the curve.

In this second of a three-part series on the value of the migration utility infrastructure to IP as the means to enable and enhance the value of smart grids, we look at an expert’s view of the challenges as highlighted in a recent GridTalk posting by Bart Vrancken, utilities solutions architect at Alcatel-Lucent, who noted, “Utilities telecom used to be very simple, handled in the background with a very small team…The explosive growth in intelligent grid devices with communication capabilities was not foreseen at all several years back. But now we see numerous examples of customers deploying these technologies.”

That’s partially because the idea of a single, converged IP architecture has been shown to work at this point, and IP/MPLS is both reliable and efficient enough for utilities that cannot afford anything less than mission-critical reliability.

Source: To download GridTalk click here.

As Vrancken explains, a 99.999 percent reliable IP/MPLS infrastructure and intelligent sensors throughout the distribution layer and at consumer end points yields:

  • More reliability
  • Fewer outages
  • Faster response times to issues
  • Reduced cost
  • Increased efficiency.

It does all of this while allowing more seamless integration of distributed renewable energy sources. That’s a nifty trick, and a good reason why an increasing number of utilities have started to make the IP migration.

“Of course, with IP protocol reaching to all corners of the network, cybersecurity becomes an important issue that utilities must address,” he said. “We’re pushing very hard to have IP/MPLS deeper in the network, so security is integrated throughout our solutions – all included from the beginning in the design.”

One of the reasons MPLS is favored among utilities is that it works both with modern IP services as well as older technologies. This seamless integration is essential for utilities, which need in most cases to make a gradual transition and keep some of the older infrastructure while the migration occurs.

IP/MPLS also is necessary to support the great volume of devices that are expected to emerge as part of the overall move to IP. According to GridTalk, there will be 50 billion connected devices by 2015. Of that total, 12 percent will be related to the utilities space. That’s a lot of devices!

“Once you’re talking about the low-voltage side of your network it means a factor of 100 more nodes than on your high-voltage transmission network,” noted Vrancken. “By the time you move to a different focus level deeper in the network, you have another device expansion factor of 100. So, if you have 100 high-voltage substations in a small country such as Belgium, for example, the low-voltage distribution sites will grow by a factor of 1,000.”

The flexibility and automation needed for such volume is well accommodated by IP/MPLS. Indeed, it is becoming increasingly clear that the path to optimized smart grids is going to rest on leveraging IP/MPLS migration.

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