New communications challenges embrace BPL


Advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) has motivated most of the communication deployments for low voltage (LV) networks. Narrowband power line communications (NB-PLC) have proven to be effective in fulfilling the communication needs for these applications.

This article was originally published in Smart Energy International 5-2019. Read the full digimag here or subscribe to receive a print copy here.

There is a need to go one step beyond AMI. The electricity network is evolving as final users become active members of the electricity network, not only consuming but also generating and storing energy. This new concept that transforms the consumer into a prosumer requires the automation reaching the service points of the LV network, which introduces new communication requirements.

The control of the LV network introduces stronger latency and error rate limitations. The increase in the number of devices and services also imposes requirements on the minimum available throughput.

PRIME Alliance is actively addressing these challenges, covering this flexibility and evolution need.

PRIME 1.4 is ready to offer an extended band plan combined with increased robustness, evolved security and better network management. This version of the PRIME NB-PLC solution optimizes the usage of the narrowband (NB) improving the communication.

Nevertheless, for some of the use cases that must be covered for the transformation of the electricity grid, the bandwidth and latency requirements exceed the capabilities that can be obtained with NB-PLC. For this purpose, PRIME Alliance is embracing broadband over powerline (BPL).

There are several use cases to be considered where BPL will complement its NB alternative. First, BPL can be used to boost the performance of the communications of urban electricity networks with already populated meters. The current solution has a PRIME NB-PLC subnetwork covering all the LV network serviced by a secondary substation (SS). All the devices of the subnetwork share the bandwidth provided by the PRIME NB-PLC solution. The communications network can be restructured by installing a gateway in each meter room with both PLC technologies: PRIME BPL and NB-PLC. It would segment the traffic by using one BPL subnetwork for the communication between the SS and the meter rooms, while the communications inside each building would be addressed by a PRIME NB-PLC subnetwork. The power management of the PRIME NB-PLC subnetworks is an important factor to be considered to reduce the collision of communications between buildings. Preliminary field results of this technology solution predict a latency reduction of AMI operations by a factor of 10. Additionally, every one of the meter rooms would have a high bandwidth connection to the backbone of the utility, enabling the automation of the LV grid and providing a future proof solution for new applications.

Secondly, BPL can be used for the connectivity of the SSs through medium voltage (MV) lines. This solution would extend the coverage of the private communication infrastructure to SSs where other solutions, like fibre optics, are not economically or technically feasible.

Thirdly, PRIME BPL can be used for the direct communication of all the devices in the LV network. The benefits of the increased bandwidth and reduced latency of the PRIME BPL solution will enable the real-time automation of the services in the LV grid.

The PRIME Alliance will not only guarantee the suitability of the BPL technical solution for the use cases, but also the openness and interoperability of the solution to provide a future proof technology with an open and competitive market.

PRIME Alliance is facing the communication challenges required by the new energy revolution. The diversity of the electricity grid of the future will require a diversity of open, interoperable and harmonized technologies working together. PRIME Alliance defines solutions with the required openness, interoperability and flexibility so that each deployment and use case has its solution optimized. SEI


Asier Llano has been an active member of the Technical Working Group of the PRIME Alliance since its foundation. He manages the Research and Development of the Metering Business Unit in ZIV. He has been more than 15 years contributing to the communications technologies for the energy sector.