The African Utility Week and POWERGEN Africa session on key considerations in smart grid and metering communication took place on Friday 15 May.

The session explored the most important element in communications for utilities.

The elements discussed include hybrid solutions, cost-effective communication, interoperability, and reliability, efficiency and security.

The webinar explained how utilities can identify true interoperability in smart metering considering there are numerous physical layer technologies such as RF and PLC and within each of these there are many barriers.

We have summarised the highlights from our top-level speakers below.

Emad El Sewedy, the CEO of EL Sewedy Electrometer Group, said communication is key to a reliable and efficient grid network.

We are currently living in a hybrid world meaning having two sources of energy or communication in a bid to become reliable and efficient.

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Smart grid
Smart metering

Voice over IP and cellular networks are the two main networks currently being used in the energy sector. Voice over IP is a more reliable mode for fast telemetry, highlighted Emad.

Smart metering has become an essential part of the grid as they help utilities to improve customer services and grid management.

Below are some of the challenges associated with different modes of communication systems.

  • Power line communication
  1. Can not be used for gas and water metering.
  2. More investments needed in a lot of repeaters.
  3. Associated occasional high noise
  • RF or cellular communication
  1. Occassional interferences.
  2. RF needs multiple repeaters as well.
  3. Cellular high operational cost.
  4. Cellular high battery consumption for gas and water

Don Taylor, technical consultant at STSA, spoke about the principles of standardisation of interfaces

The interfaces include interoperability, protocol and cybersecurity.

He explained the advantages and disadvantages of both hybrid metering communication (comprising 2 or more of the standard interfaces in the same meter) and long haul communication.

Why we need hybrid communications?

  • Not 100% reliability with RF or PLC only.
  • Particularly relevant to C and M interfaces.
  • Short reach + low bandwidth interfaces.
  • Low operational cost.

Long-haul communication

  • Relevant to G1 and G2 interfaces.
  • Hybrid not required.
  • Much more reliable.
  • Long reach + high bandwidth + low noise.
  • Higher operational cost

Mark Ossel, board member for Open Smart Grid Protocol.

Smart metering and the smart grid in the old days was related to billing. However, it now not about billing but the energy transition.

It is about moving from the old aged infrastructure to the new modern. The most important thing to do is to choose a communication architecture that is interoperable with multiple technologies and devices.

Technologies are evolving at a faster pace hence there is need to take advantage of open source technologies that would enable you to leverage new innovations.