T&D World Magazine

UTC: Utilities Need Improved Communications Networks to Improve Energy Independence, Sustainability

The Utilities Telecom Council (UTC) has released a landmark study, Utility Communications Needs: Key Factors That Impact Utility Communications Networks, that articulates the key requirements that utilities must meet to provide the reliable, robust, secure and ubiquitous communications that for smart energy grids. The UTC study was sponsored by Verizon.

"Energy and water companies need a range of advanced technologies to navigate the communications challenges we face in building 21st century intelligent networks and emergency response systems," said William R. Moroney, UTC President and Chief Executive Officer. "Bottom line: utilities cannot build all the communications networks they need, and best of breed communications service providers will be essential to their success. We believe this report will help both utilities and their technology partners to more rapidly understand where each utility needs its own networks and where partnership will enhance their operations."

Based on extensive research with UTC's energy and water utility members and a wide range of factors that shape how utilities will adopt advanced communications technologies into smart grids, the study delves into the crucial technical factors that both utilities and their technology partners must take into account to deliver critical utility communication services. These factors are often extreme high reliability, higher bandwidth, very low latency, ubiquitous coverage, tight security and uninterrupted power supplies.

The study further concludes that communications service providers will have expanded opportunities in the utility communications marketplace if they meet the technical requirements for these key factors in a cost-effective manner.

Specifically, the study's top findings are:

  • Reliability is the number-one criteria for utility communications networks. Whether in networks built, owned and managed by utilities or in communications services purchased or leased from external providers, reliability was the most important technical factor.
  • The advent of the smart grid, which has spurred a number of efforts to standardize industry technologies and protocols, promises to create a more uniform set of architectures, configurations and applications for utilities in the future. As unifying efforts get underway, the utility industry could create a more uniform base for the more rapid deployment of advanced two-way communications technology.
  • The scope, structure and technologies of utility communications vary widely from utility to utility. Because of the long-evolved legacy communications architectures across the nation's utilities, no single approach to utility communications is practical in the near-term.
  • Under current and future technology scenarios, certain key technical factors are mandatory for safe, reliable and secure utility operations. Among these factors are extreme high reliability, higher bandwidth, very low latency, ubiquitous coverage, tight security and uninterrupted power supplies
  • Communications service providers face increased opportunities in utility communications but must meet utilities' key reliability, technical and cost requirements. Utilities already rely on external telecom providers throughout their communications networks and will likely turn to more outside telecom partners for support as two-way technologies take hold and as industry standardization occurs. But communications service providers must meet the industry's key technical requirements, particularly when it comes to core and operations networks where any failure can destabilize or shut-down the utility's functions.

"This study provides an important blueprint for the utility and communications industries to work together, while reinforcing that reliability and security will be two key components to successful smart grid evolution," said Rilck Noel, vice president and global managing director of Verizon Business' global energy and utility practice. "Verizon's experience designing, building and managing some of the world's most innovative communications and IT solutions for government agencies and businesses across the globe make it ideally suited to address the evolving requirements of utilities and deliver end-to-end smart grid solutions."

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