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In 2017, Gartner reported that advanced metering infrastructure was passing through the “Trough of Disillusionment” in its hype cycle for smart grid technology.

The utility field area networks were beginning to climb the “Slope of Enlightenment” and perhaps have plateaued in productivity. A few important lessons were learned in the process.

First, all systems consume the available bandwidths of these purpose-built networks within first few years with no economic scope of improved functional performance.

Second, the data silos of metering systems and meter data systems add to the lack of ability to democratise the data across various functions of utilities.

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In many cases, this has resulted in these systems only providing operational improvements to the meter-to-cash cycle. While the smart meters have remained capable to provide the functions needed to accrue operational benefits, the ability to share and analyse data among various silos have stymied any widespread successes.

This subject was addressed in a previous blog, where the need to establish data lakes, hydrated with meter data, Geographic Information System (GIS) data, and other operational data at one place in the hyperscaled environment of cloud was discussed.

Market revolution that is driving the disruptive change

The rapid increase of Distributed Energy Resources (DER) is creating a need to have far more granular information about the generation, load, voltage, reactive flows, and grid inertia than has ever been required before.

Consolidated Edison has indicated that it is collecting 15-minute interval data every 15 minutes, ready to present to their customers within 30 minutes of the interval. Australia, which has been adding rooftop solar at a frantic rate (over 2 million Solar rooftops in Australia), in many states, has been working to identify rules that will apply to these massively distributed resources.

The Australian Market Operator (AEMO) is specifying a five-minute settlement rule based upon five-minute interval data. As the next generation of the digital grid starts to get defined, emphasis on nearly continuous data streaming from millions of IoT nodes (such as next-generation smart meters and IoT devices) is likely to be a key requisite from these systems.

Digital grid 2.0 will need the ability to stream one-minute interval data, delivered every minute from these nodes to a massively scaled set of applications running on the cloud. These applications are enabling features like near-real-time load flows for managing grid stability.

In addition, support for transactive energy to allow new and innovative tariff structures have started to emerge, as well as the ability to interact with prosumers and consumers that are looking to optimize their energy sales and consumption.

Enel is one of Europe’s largest utilities and has positioned itself to handle just such requirements by designing and deploying an IoT infrastructure built on AWS. AWS IoT and data services enable this for millions of smart meters and substations across Italy.

How does AWS & 5G help meet the needs of digital grid 2.0 ?

AWS is uniquely positioned for enabling the grid of the future. With the scalability that can deliver dynamic load flows in near-real time, AWS can offer unprecedented insights to the grid operators of the future. With sophisticated AI/ML tools, AWS can carry the heavy lift of complex decision making in controlling these dynamic grids, where generation and load (electric vehicles) can itself be mobile too.

A grid operator of the future has to understand how geographically distributed solar generation is affected by changing weather conditions and make rapid decisions to disengage select assets to ensure grid stability. Such decision making will need these applications to be deployed on a cloud infrastructure and use ML technologies like Amazon SageMaker and Amazon Forecast to help grid operators determine the optimal steps to take. Amazon Personalize can use this data to make personalised energy management recommendations to consumers, which can be pushed out in a variety of ways, including Amazon Pinpoint.

The digital grid 2.0 will need data streaming communication technologies. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s publication Requirements and Capabilities Needed for Robust DERMS Control Verification, outlines such requirements. In part, it states, “The US Department of Energy recommends a latency between 20 milliseconds and 15 seconds for DERs, demand response, and distributed storage in the distribution system. Latency calculations must also include the time taken to measure and process system voltage.

This time varies with different sensors but can take 0.5 seconds to measure and process the voltage, and then can take up to a second to reach a new set point. Sandia National Labs recommends a response time of less than 1 second as a communications metric for smart inverters.” In addition, it calls out the need for bandwidth up to 1 Gbps from these distributed assets.

AWS Wavelength

This may be the time where technologies like 5G, coupled with AWS Wavelength, will play a pivotal role in collecting data from millions of grid nodes and prosumer devices in near-real-time.

This technology provides ultra-low latency analysis, control and AI inference at the edge, across a vast swathe of utility assets and applications that are geographically spread out. AWS Wavelength extends AWS infrastructure to 5G carrier networks by embedding AWS compute and storage services in the carrier’s data centers, at service access points on the edge of the 5G network. AWS Wavelength is live now on the Verizon network in San Francisco and Boston, with more cities and carriers across the globe to come.

What should utilities do next? As the utilities start to build out their definition of the next iteration of their digital grid, they will define the use cases that this grid will need to support over the next 15–20 years. Utilities should consider how technologies like AWS Wavelength and 5G could be essential to the operations of a highly resilient, DER-driven grid that is meeting the climate and sustainability challenges of our future. Learn more at AWS Power & Utilities.