Case Study: Utilities Get a “Try Before You Buy” Approach for Critical Apps


Utilities can now test new services on combined communications networking and power grid infrastructure to avoid pitfalls and learn from peers.

Name of organizations: Nokia, University of Strathclyde

Industry: Energy/Utilities

Location: Plano, Texas & Glasgow, Scotland

Opportunity or Challenge Encountered: New technologies and trends are emerging that can have a dramatic impact on both the operations and business models of power utilities. The rise of renewable energy sources, distributed storage devices, and other smart grid technologies means better communications infrastructure is needed to support the flow of data required for increased automation, monitoring and control. Modernizing and extending communications deeper into the grid is critical for supporting safe, reliable and efficient grid operations. Determining which capabilities to introduce, and when, requires substantial planning and extensive testing. However, society is too dependent on power grids running smoothly to risk disrupting operations to test out new applications.

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A unique collaboration has been established that links Nokia’s Energy Innovation Center (EIC) in Plano, Texas with the University of Strathclyde’s Dynamic Power Systems Laboratory in Glasgow, Scotland. Together, our two organizations have created an unmatched capability to evaluate new utility applications on a real-world utility network without putting power supplies at risk.

How This Opportunity or Challenge was Met: This collaboration leveraged software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) technology to securely connect these two geographically distinct facilities — using any available broadband connection — and combine them into a single environment; which historically speaking would have involved extensive dedicated networking resources and great expense.

The result is a jointly operated facility that is the first transatlantic innovation hub where utilities from around the world can explore disruptive technologies, use cases, major trends and learn from the experiences of their counterparts. This facility enables utilities to evaluate new applications on a real-world utility network without putting power supplies at risk.

This long-distance link also offers the benefit of enabling utilities with highly distributed grids, including those in multiple countries or regions, to assess the performance of applications and equipment (such as remotely located wind turbines) over long distances; a capability not available in traditional test labs. 

Benefits of this Initiative: “This partnership brings together two sets of resources and expertise that haven’t been combined before, but which complement each other,” according to Dr. Steven Blair, research fellow in the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering at the University of Strathclyde.

The lab couples Strathclyde’s equipment for modeling and simulating complex events in the grid with Nokia’s end-to-end communications systems, in order to support the validation of existing and future grid applications in a realistic environment. Utilities can access the resources of both labs from either location, experiencing them as a single, seamless environment. This enables utilities to mimic their current grid and communications network architecture exactly and in real-time, and then modify that architecture to reflect changes they are considering making in future. This, in turn, provides a platform to model, test, validate and prove-in new applications, capabilities and associated business models.

Innovative applications are now being tested and validated, and then packaged as use cases which can be made available to utilities. “This enables them to benefit from the innovation and best practices of their counterparts around the world as they transition to new business models,” according to Kamal Ballout, head of the Global Energy Segment at Nokia.

Utilities can also utilize SD-WAN technology to access these resources remotely, and reserve dedicated time that they can use for their testing regime. In this way, they can use this environment as an extension of their own lab environment, by combining their own resources with those provided by Nokia and the University of Strathclyde.

This approach accelerates time-to-market with reduced risk and less need to invest in lab equipment, while also offering greater predictability about the outcome of the deployment of new applications.

(Via Nokia)

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