PRIME addresses new communication challenges embracing BPL


The PRIME Alliance embraces BPL complementing its existing NB-PLC technology to meet the communication requirements for the evolution of the grid.

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. PRIME has demonstrated its effectiveness in this area in the deployments of multiple distribution companies, with more than 21 million devices installed.

There is a need to go one step beyond AMI. The electricity network is evolving in order to address the challenge of energy supply sustainability and fossil fuels consumption reduction.

This evolution changes the traditional generation and consumption patterns involving distributed generation, electric vehicle charging, demand response, energy aggregation management, distributed energy storage or distributed LV quality of service supervision. The final user becomes an active member 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 automation of the LV equipment requires communication flexibility as it involves multiple and diverse devices such as smart meters, photovoltaic inverters, electric vehicle chargers or energy aggregation management devices. The control of the LV network introduces stronger latency and error rate limitations. The increase of 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 extended band plan combined with increased robustness, evolved security and better network management. This version of the PRIME NB-PLC solution optimises 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, the PRIME Alliance is embracing broadband over power line (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 LVnetwork 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 ten.

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. Figure 1 depicts a network topology which integrates both PLC solutions to extend the communication capabilities of the LV network.

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. Not only smart meters, but also electric vehicle chargers, power inverters, aggregation management devices. 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 in order to provide a future proof technology with an open and competitive market.

The diversity of devices, services and networks in LV will require a diverse set of open and interoperable communication solutions.

PRIME Alliance is also complementing the physical powerline communications with standard radiofrequency interfaces. This hybrid environment extends the capabilities of PRIME networks beyond the power line limits, enabling new applications, such as, smart gas and water metering, in-home display or last gasp functionality.

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 have their solution optimised.

Figure 1. Example of solution where PRIME BPL and NB-PLC are combined to improve the capabilities of urban networks with populated meter rooms.