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Wireless Connectivity: The Next Frontier for Energy Systems

Dec. 6, 2021
Together, we can build a greener economy and a world driven by clean energy that is accessible and efficient, with the help of enabling technologies such as 5G and its successors.

It is an exciting and challenging time to be working in electrical transmission and distribution as we navigate both the energy revolution and the fourth industrial revolution.

These two global movements are putting tremendous focus on the world’s communications networks, as it’s increasingly crucial for connections to be up and running without interruption. But while wireless communication has progressed very rapidly in the last few decades, the current 4G cellular network is too limited for critical connections like power systems. 

5G And Beyond: The Future of Connectivity

When GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications), or 2G, was introduced in the 1990s it was revolutionary as it enabled global wireless communication. The next generation, 3G, brought us mobile internet, while 4G has given us higher data transfer speeds so we can enjoy high-definition TV and video conferencing on the go. 

Now we are ready for 5G. This new communication infrastructure will transform the way we connect an increasing number of devices from industrial and power grid applications to deliver smarter solutions. 

5G brings significantly more capacity, thanks to its new radio technology.  With more dedicated communication channels, we can meet the varying demands of applications and users, enabling even the most critical of connections to be carried out with wireless technology. 

5G improvements allow devices to be interconnected through secure, reliable, and low-latency wireless communication networks. This will have a profound impact on the design and operation of smart grids. 

While 5G offers a new era of connectivity for business and industry, we must be prepared to adopt and develop it further. This means we must drive the development of new technologies and business models now.

Research: 5G for Critical Infrastructure

5G has the potential to be used in a variety of power system applications from fast fault location to supporting demand response. However, the safe transition towards utilizing modern wireless communication technologies in critical infrastructure requires years of study, the creation of models and prototypes, and extensive testing.

ABB has been involved in many research projects, working in cooperation with research institutions and universities, private companies and public authorities to explore the use of 5G connectivity for critical power infrastructure. 

One example project is ‘5G Vertical Integrated Industry for Massive Automation’, also known as 5G VIIMA. This involves setting up a pilot environment in Finland, for testing 5G high reliability and low latency networks for power system protection and control. The testbed has been created with ABB’s Relion protection relays, SMU615 merging units and SSC600 smart substation control and protection devices. With the addition of video and sensor equipment, we have a real-time simulator to study various power system architectures and fault scenarios. 

Developing Business Networks

The digital era has made many new technologies available for us to use in electrical transmission and distribution, but to drive the energy revolution forward and deliver tangible results faster, we must work together. This means joining forces with other companies to share resources and capabilities. 

In my home country Finland, we have set the ambitious target to become climate-neutral by 2035. One of the pieces of the puzzle to meet the target is the Business Finland-funded Green Electrification 2035 program. Within the program, ABB is developing platforms for optimal electricity generation and electricity use.

The Green Electrification 2035 program brings together players from different sectors to create strategic partnerships and establish a business ecosystem. This network will be better positioned to tackle the challenges ahead on the way to a decarbonized future, than any individual company could. 

As a key driver in the program, ABB is encouraging the other companies involved to develop their products and services based on the program’s technology platforms, so we adopt a common and integrated approach from the outset.

For us, one of the key topics around 5G is the development of a slicing service with mobile telecommunication operators to ensure wireless communication for critical infrastructure. The benefit of this new type of service is that it guarantees quality of service for end customer applications.

Distributed energy resources, such as solar power plants, are often spread over a large geographical area. Therefore, distribution system operators may need to implement wide area protection and control schemes where they rely on wireless connectivity, due to the lack of fiber or other wired connectivity.

Overall, the Green Electrification 2035 program will deliver controllable and safe solutions that optimize system-level energy efficiency and reliability. These solutions are scalable and meet the growing demand for energy efficiency as we move to an all-electric future and away from fossil-fuel driven generation.

Why We All Need To Get Connected 

Increased digitalization means we need to share information as more smart elements are added to monitor and control grid assets. Added dynamics in the grid requires vertical and horizontal communication, as well as information sharing between all the assets.

To make our grids more resilient we need to investigate whether technologies like 5G could bring us new ways to solve or improve how we deal with already known challenges, for example in fault location applications. The faster and more reliably we can react to faults, the more secure the supply will be. 

Extensive cross-sectoral cooperation is needed to facilitate the enormous ongoing transformation to a carbon-neutral society. Only through collaboration will we find the best business models for all stakeholders involved. Together, we can build a greener economy and a world driven by clean energy that is accessible and efficient thanks to enabling technologies such as 5G and its successors.

About the Author

Petri Hovila

Petri Hovila is the program manager for the Green Electrification 2035 program and ABB’s contribution to UK Power Networks’ Constellation project.

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