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Co-ops must prepare for enhanced communication systems

SUBNET Solutions Inc | Wednesday, August 15, 2012

With more electric co-ops deploying smart grid systems at a faster rate than ever, they will undoubtedly have to reassess the communications networks they are currently using to allow for much larger amounts of data that will be traversing the nation's grid, industry experts say.

According to ECT, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association's Cooperative Research Network is planning to draft a new guide that will provide co-ops with the necessary resources for addressing their own telecommunication needs, according to Maurice Martin, a project manager at the Cooperative Research Network.

"Telecommunications is tricky because everything is changing so fast," he said. "It seems like every other week there’s a new wireless solution. When co-ops upgrade, they have to think not only about what they need now, but what they will need three years from now, or five years from now, or even farther down the road."

Martin added that all new telecom systems must be outfitted with the correct smart grid technologies that may have not yet been installed. The data the group will use to write the guide will be taken from all sectors of the industry, as well as from advisers with CRN, smart grid technology vendors, co-ops directly involved with smart grid projects put on by the Department of Energy and a number of other industry leaders.

Co-ops will see unique challenges during smart grid deployments, as they demand various telecom needs due to the wide range of geography and density in which they are found. Often, co-ops tend to use a mix-and-match strategy for implementing systems. This allows for the right technologies to be used in the appropriate places, but also brings up the issue of interoperability, which many smart grid experts say will be one of the most difficult aspects of smart grid deployments.

According to the news source, potential communication networks for co-ops include fiber optics, which provide ample bandwidth, but the associated costs are typically much higher than other communication technologies. Other solutions include broadband over powerlines, cellular, spread spectrum, WiMax, mesh radios or satellites.

SUBNET's Unified Substation Communications solution allows utilities to collect all substation data through a single intelligent server that can unify all substation data. Such technology will be crucial for any smart grid deployment that involves disparate intelligent electronic devices that send data over various communication networks. 

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