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Source: US National Renewable Energy Laboratory

May 1, 2020

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In power systems, sometimes the most critical infrastructure is invisible.

This is the case for wireless communications, which could become the backbone of critical distribution-level grid control—allowing for increased levels of grid-connected solar and greater overall visibility of the distribution system. But at the Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF), the importance of that infrastructure has now been made visible, using real hardware and real power testing.

As explained in a recent video, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and industry partner Anterix have validated essential communications functions over a 900 MHz private LTE network. Within the ESIF, the ability to transmit system protection signals at low latency to a network of devices was demonstrated on a realistic power system. The demonstration showed that LTE networks can provide high-speed response and relieve congestion among communications of distributed energy resources.

“We think that this work can have a huge impact on utilities and how they view communications across the grid,” said NREL Research Engineer Emma Raszmann in the video.

Before utilities jump into new and expensive management solutions, results from the ESIF help de-risk the adoption of advanced distribution management systems (ADMS) and their applications. Now, with the addition of utility-scale communications systems, performance of protection and ADMS control applications can be evaluated considering the characteristics of the underlying communications system. Specifically, the capability to prioritize traffic on a congested or low bandwidth communications channel helps to improve the reliability of mission critical use cases while allowing for full visibility and flexibility in the control of utility traffic.

“The goal of the project is to allow utilities to ask the second question that comes up when implementing an ADMS,” said Barry Mather, manager of integrated devices and systems at NREL. “The first question is, how will the ADMS system benefit my overall operations? The second is, how do I actually implement it?”

The ADMS test bed at the ESIF was integrated with a private wireless network provided by Anterix’s 900 MHz LTE system to test the performance of an ADMS system with high penetration of renewables. As Jim Li, manager of engineering solutions at Anterix, described, collaborating with NREL was “critically important” because of the laboratory’s “world-class facilities for testing and developing renewable energy technologies.”

The NREL-Anterix team hopes that results from this project will help other utilities understand how wireless communications can perform on their systems and provide a framework to explore future solutions.