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Future-proofing SCADA Communications for the Smart Grid

Utilities today face unprecedented change, both internally and externally. Distribution network operators (DNOs) are both responsible for and are required to prepare for the challenges of the smart grid.

Challenges include increasing demand, distributed generation, environmental concerns, peak management, security and more stringent regulations, an important component of which is ensuring the suitability of infrastructure investments for the long term.

The investment challenge is further complicated by a lack of consensus as to the future landscape. Waiting for clarity is not an option due to the time constraints of deploying network wide infrastructure and the imperative to quickly realise performance gains and, perhaps more importantly, the balance sheet.

A future-proof investment policy is needed, with a focus on ensuring that infrastructure:

  • Is dimensioned for today’s needs yet scalable to meet tomorrow’s.
  • Addresses both commercial pressures and operational realities to deliver the most effective performance and efficiency improvements.
  • Takes into account long term, multi-stakeholder asset management plans and capital investment cycles that require network equipment to be deployed for 20-30 years or longer.

While industry forums resound with talk of renewable energy sources, electric vehicles, AMR and peak shaving; it is widely accepted that the most immediate and substantial returns for utilities and DNOs can be found in increasing visibility and control of the distribution network through deployment of additional and better SCADA equipment.

Utility balancing act and stakeholders.Furthermore, it is in deploying the communications networks required to support SCADA deployments that utilities have an opportunity to make smart, future-proof investments. (Pictured alongside: Utility balancing act and stakeholders.)

A smart point-to-multipoint communication network addresses commercial and operational concerns by delivering three things:

  • A single, scalable, upgradeable network
  • Equipment designed for longevity
  • Comprehensive, upgradeable security measures

A single, scalable, upgradeable SCADA communications network means that transitioning from serial to IP can be done in stages, with a mix in the network as required, while working concurrently with both existing and new equipment.

This avoids the need for separate serial and IP networks for legacy RTUs. With smart SCADA point-to-multipoint radios as the backbone for a communication network, DNOs can control where and how the network is scaled, when to deploy new units or add previously unmonitored assets.

Investing in a communications network dimensioned for current needs yet can scale easily and cost effectively as the future landscape becomes clear and needs evolve, is a smart decision, operationally and commercially sense.

A controlled rollout is then enabled through software upgrades, not truck rolls. The reduced maintenance cost advantages of improved monitoring and control will not be eliminated by having to spend time and money maintaining the communications network itself.

A network of smart point-to-multipoint SCADA radios from a reputable manufacturer will ensure that wherever the equipment is deployed, from high temperatures on overhead lines to freezing conditions, the network will continue to operate.

Planning and deploying communications infrastructure in line with lengthy budget cycles, installers can be confident that once deployed it will remain so for as long as needed.

Specifically designed for harsh conditions, lengthy deployments and dependability, a smart point-to-multipoint SCADA radio delivers reliability, robustness and resilience in temperature extremes.

Increasing visibility and control in the distribution network.Investing in a communications network that takes a total life cost approach and combines hardware longevity with software upgradeability will stand the test of time, both operationally and commercially. (Pictured alongside: Increasing visibility and control in the distribution network.)

A comprehensive approach to security needs to take into account the types and sources of attack, the relevant security design standards and recommendations, the network interfaces and security fundamentals.

Investing in a communications network that takes security and evolving standards into account, ensuring that critical infrastructure is safe and within absolute control, both now and into the future, while still making commercial sense by minimising upgrade costs.

By choosing a communications platform that provides a future-proof investment, DNOs will be rewarded with:

  • A single network, able to deploy enhanced functionality as needed, regardless of future uncertainty
  • Reduced maintenance costs with equipment designed for the lengthy deployment periods that utility infrastructure demands
  • Seamless rollout of the latest and most stringent security mechanisms across the SCADA communications network

Most importantly, owning the future-proof communications platform gives absolute control over the network, from both a commercial and an operational perspective, however long it is deployed for and whatever the future holds. When it comes to critical infrastructure, a future-proof investment is not just smart, it is essential.

[Nicky Dibben is Vice President Marketing, 4RF.]

[4RF solutions are distributed in Australia by Madison Technologies.]

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