T&D World Magazine

Corn Belt Power Cooperative to Use Microwave Backhaul Systems to Connect Smart Grid Across Northern Iowa

Corn Belt Power Cooperative has deployed Exalt microwave backhaul systems to consolidate its legacy communications network and better manage the traffic load on its smart grid and SCADA systems. A mix of Exalt-licensed and license-exempt microwave links is helping Corn Belt Power cut operational costs and help its members more efficiently manage peak consumption.

In 2010, Corn Belt Power implemented its Watts Smart load-management system, using smart grid technology to optimize usage patterns and reduce costs. The system time-shifts electric water heaters and cycles off air conditioners to use electricity more efficiently during peak-demand periods. To position the new load-management system for future operation, Corn Belt Power needed a more flexible network infrastructure: a lower-latency IP network that could be quickly deployed and simultaneously support TDM phone networks and serial radio traffic in their native formats. Corn Belt’s requirements led the co-op to choose microwave backhaul systems.

“As we learned from our smart grid system, real-time data is the path to efficiency,” said Lynn Miller, communications superintendent for Corn Belt Power Cooperative. “Migrating that traffic to an IP-Ethernet infrastructure lets us guarantee QoS for our SCADA network and helps co-op members make faster decisions using smart grid data.”

Working with Exalt partner Calhoun Communications of Sioux City, Iowa, Corn Belt Power deployed Exalt ExploreAir 11 GHz microwave systems and Exalt EX-Series 5 GHz and 6 GHz systems. Calhoun helped integrate the Exalt ExploreAir systems into the co-op’s existing phone networks, consolidating several T-1 lines with the product’s native support for both Ethernet and TDM. The ExploreAir radios at Corn Belt Power also support two-way radio base station control traffic, a serial radio system used for protective relaying, and offsite backups for the co-op’s new virtual server infrastructure. The Exalt EX systems provide wireless backhaul to the co-op’s legacy OC-3 microwave rings at full-duplex speeds of up to 230 Mbps.

“Exalt systems give our partners and customers the flexibility to tailor each deployment to its own unique geographic, application, and network requirements,” said Mark Davis, senior director of product marketing for Exalt Communications. “Energy and utility companies are seeing dramatic increases in the volumes of data gathered from SCADA networks, as well as the widespread deployment of IP services, and that’s placing new demands on legacy infrastructures. The Exalt deployment at Corn Belt Power Cooperative is another example of how the right microwave backhaul systems can serve legacy applications — industrial systems unlikely to change, such as phone and two-way radio networks — and prepare for increasing IP traffic loads like SCADA data, smart grid traffic, and off-site server backup.”

All Exalt microwave backhaul systems — indoor, outdoor, and split-mount — offer guaranteed link availability, guaranteed throughput and low, constant latency. Systems are available in world bands from 2 to 43 GHz and in capacities from 10 Mbps to more than 1000 Mbps per channel, providing a range of options to fit countless network applications. Designed to enable a smooth transition to IP, they offer native support for both TDM and Ethernet, and are fully software configurable and upgradeable. For easy and secure management using third-party network management systems, Exalt systems support SNMP v1, v2c and v3. Data security is provided by available FIPS 197-compliant AES 128-bit and 256-bit encryption that adds zero latency to the transmission. To simplify installation and maintenance, all Exalt systems feature an embedded manual and most include a built-in spectrum analyzer.

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