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Fiber: The Key to Unlocking Tomorrow’s Energy Grid

April 24, 2024
Tim Harris and Tim Lawter, ENTRUST Solutions, USA, explain how fiber will enhance, and bring synergy to, the renewable energy mix of the future.

Each year, the global consumption of energy and communication data per capita steadily increases. Individuals worldwide rely more heavily on energy for various purposes, including internet connectivity, data transfers, and multimedia communication. However, amidst this growing demand, there exists an opportunity for efficiency. The integration of fiber optics with energy usage offers a means to optimize resource utilization. By leveraging fiber technology, we can enhance energy efficiency and better manage the demands placed on the burgeoning renewable energy grid. As we advance further into the digital era, the efficient allocation of energy becomes increasingly crucial to sustain our data-driven lifestyles and the infrastructure that supports them.

A Changing Energy System: The Emergence of Smart Grids and Microgrids

The expansion of renewable energy sources underscores the critical need for real-time measurement and monitoring to enable swift data analysis and informed decision-making. Fiber is emerging as a critical tool in this endeavor due to its ultra-high-speed communication capabilities. By harnessing fiber technology, we gain the capacity to collect real-time intelligence that is essential for monitoring and controlling all assets within the renewable energy infrastructure. Moreover, integrating fiber with utility meters enables the connection, monitoring, and control of various utilities, including water and gas, through the same fiber network, facilitated by wireless technologies.

Fiber optic technology allows the seamless integration of distributed energy resources into the smart grid. By transmitting data from the power grid to control centers, utilities can precisely balance the supply and demand of electricity, restore grid faults, and optimize the utilization of renewable sources. This is accomplished by sectionalizing existing electric power grids, the utilization of smart devices/switches, and the high-speed data transmission delivered by fiber optic technology. Fiber optics serves as a link between device and/or asset to monitor field assets, making utilities more resilient.

The concept of smart metering technology has gained prominence over the past decade, largely driven by individuals establishing their own private networks. These networks have paved the way for more sophisticated metering capabilities to emerge. Battery requirements have traditionally restricted communication capabilities. As electric power consumption continues to increase and fiber optic technology manifests itself into the meter, the microgrid will become a reality, allowing electric power consumers to have more control over their power usage, while allowing energy providers to balance demands at a microgrid level.

Changes in Meeting Energy Demands: Fiber as an Enabler of Connectivity

Effective connectivity provides the communication, monitoring, and responsiveness to control and monitor assets in real time and it will serve as the foundation of any future energy system. The benefits of fiber connectivity apply to more than just utilities and power generation, they can also bring huge benefits to residential, large commercial or industrial customers.

Today’s electrical grid operates such that there are baseload and peaking power plants that can be turned on and off as needed. In contrast, the gas utility side has a passive, relatively non-digital setup. There may be a handful of valves that can be automated and controlled, but that is all predicated on delivering natural gas to a stable demand. It is also assuming that there is a bulk production upstream to keep gas in the pipes and pressurization maximized.

The inherent compressibility of natural gas allows for a significant volume of gas to be compressed within a pipeline. As pressure increases, the phenomenon known as 'line pack' occurs, wherein additional gas molecules act as a buffer against demand fluctuations. As demand for natural gas increases, pressure starts dropping in a linear fashion. Volumetric gas can be reduced without crashing the pressure.

Conversely, hydrogen is single atom elemental gas with a compressibility factor of almost one. Without the bonus of line pack that we are afforded with natural gas, a hydrogen-mixed gas system will need to be smarter than natural gas infrastructure. Furthermore, delivering a green or renewables-based hydrogen product means relying on sources that are variable and intermittent. Solar only works when the sun is shining and wind only works when the wind is blowing. To respond to that on/off nature of production, with the on/off nature of downstream demand, communication between all parts of the system needs to be revolutionized, and this can only be done with a fiber network.

Connectivity Evolution

The next evolution of connectivity will involve microgrids, fiber to the meter and fiber to the home. With smart grids operational, the power producer no longer needs to worry about demand spikes. For example, the system would offer the ability to control when an electric vehicle will receive charge in certain geographical areas, or the ability to draw power back from water heaters, shut down HVAC systems etc. Because the demands on usage become leveled off, this has the potential to deliver tremendous cost savings to the power producers. This real time control only becomes possible over high-speed networks, whether at home or in the field.

Undoubtedly, energy domain technology is transitioning towards a more dynamic system aimed at ensuring a stable supply while effectively managing demand spikes through drawing upon a diverse mix of energy sources. Incorporating fiber connectivity into sensors is crucial for gaining comprehensive insights into system operations. Additionally, implementing a control scheme, powered by either Artificial Intelligence or a straightforward demand response calculation, is essential for effective management.

The back systems must be put in place that allow grid modernization to be achieved. This capability allows for the segmentation of grids and enables switching, not only within homes but also across the network. This ensures that power can always be swiftly restored.


Regardless of the exact utilities mix of the future, fiber will serve as the backbone for any future scenario, and it is already in progress. ENTRUST is currently working with several investor-owned-utilities (IOUs) in the southeastern United States who are connecting their assets via fiber. An IOU in Chattanooga, Tennessee, has deployed fiber throughout the city. Now, they can monitor and take corrective action and automatically restore power to the entire population of the city within minutes of a storm passing through.

In conclusion, the integration of fiber optics with energy consumption presents a pathway to optimize resource utilization in the face of escalating demands for energy and communication data. Leveraging fiber technology can enhance energy efficiency and better manage the strain on renewable energy grids, ensuring the sustainability of our digital lifestyles and supporting infrastructure as we progress further into the digital age.

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