Power line communication for smart grid


In an interview with Metering & Smart Energy International, Marc Delandre, expands on some of the organisation’s current activities and how powerline communication and the G3-PLC standard is meeting the needs of the smart grid today and in the future.

MSEI: Can you talk about some of the current activities/projects the G3-PLC Alliance currently has underway?

MD: The G3-PLC Alliance was established in 2011 to develop, promote and standardise a strong and robust powerline communication solution for smart grids.  Eighty companies, from 30 different countries, have joined the G3-PLC Alliance.

G3-PLC is now a mature technology, with more than 10 million G3-PLC products in the field. G3-PLC facilitates high-speed, highly reliable, long-range communication over the existing powerline grid. With the ability to cross transformers, infrastructure costs are reduced and with its support of IPv6, G3-PLC will support powerline communications into the future.

The alliance has announced the release of the 2017 version of the G3-PLC specification, with enhancements for increased robustness and cybersecurity. The certification process will be updated in the coming weeks to comply with the new 2017 G3-PLC version.

MSEI: Can you comment on how the PLC communication standard has evolved over the last decade?

MD: PLC communication started a long time ago, in a fragmented market, with different proprietary solutions.  G3-PLC is the latest version of powerline communication for smart metering and smart grid. G3-PLC provides a good tradeoff between performance and cost.

G3-PLC was declared an open standard by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in December 2011.

Since smart grid implementations require major investments, the issuing of certificates is very important. High quality certificates give both vendors and users assurance that their meters, data concentrators and other devices have the correct implementation of the G3PLC standard, that they are interoperable with other certified devices and meet the specified performance levels.

Testing for G3-PLC Certification is performed by two selected test laboratories: LAN in France and  TÜVRheinland in Japan. The interoperability plugfest is operated by Trialog in Paris. These laboratories conduct a series of tests developed and maintained by the G3-PLC Alliance.

There are 150 platforms and products that are G3-PLC certified and listed on the G3-PLC Alliance website, and there are 10 million G3-PLC products already in the field (Europe, Asia, Middle East and South Africa)

 MSEI: How do you see the PLC technology advancing over the next 10 or 20 years to accommodate the evolving needs of the energy and utilities industry?

MD: As a result of its embedded IPV6 addressing infrastructure, the G3-PLC standard is compliant with the growing Internet of Things ecosystem. Embedded firmware can be remotely upgraded, while taking into account cybersecurity requirements.

Furthermore, any routing protocol from the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) or standardised application layer can be used with G3-PLC. This includes Echonet Lite for home energy management systems (HEMS) in Japan as well as DLMS/COSEM for metering, prepayment standards, and so forth.

MSEI: Apart from smart metering, for which other grid and energy management applications does PLC particularly excel?

MD: G3-PLC started with smart metering, but is being used for many other smart energy applications such as street lighting, renewable energy management, charging locations for electric vehicles (EVs), home and building energy management, medium voltage monitoring and soon, traffic light management.

MSEI: What is the latest innovation in power line carriers to increase energy savings?

MD: One example is the use of G3-PLC by Eskom in South Africa for prepaid metering solutions. The customer has all the information to manage his energy consumption and save energy.

G3-PLC is also being used in France by Enedis for smart metering. Enedis is leveraging G3-PLC to help the distribution system operator (DSO) optimise load on the country’s electricity network, as well as reduce technical losses.

 MSEI: How is the PLC communication designed to address some of the considerations associated with utility communications infrastructure; for example, maintenance, security,  pricing and interoperability, and ubiquity?

MD: G3-PLC is a global, open, free standard: there is no licence fee to pay. The strong support of the G3-PLC Alliance is a longterm guarantee for a utility. Smart grid is a long-term investment, so when adopting a communications solution, one needs to be sure that it will fulfil present and future needs. Therefore, it is very important to know, for instance, that G3-PLC products will be available in 10, 20 or 30 years! When a product is G3-PLC certified, it means that product 100% interoperable with other G3-PLC products.

MSEI: What is the latest innovation in powerline carriers to decrease noise and issues of multipath1, carrier interference and the external emissions of RF interference?

MD: G3-PLC is based on the OFDM modulation (Orthogonal Frequency Division multiplexing (FDM) scheme used as a digital multi-carrier modulation method. A large number of closely spaced orthogonal sub-carrier signals are used to carry data on several parallel data streams or channels.

G3-PLC has an embedded routing protocol, with a robust mode: priority is given to the security of data transmission. G3-PLC works, whatever the network, regardless of the noise on the network. It can be compared to a fourwheel drive car!

MSEI: To what extent do licensed and unlicensed frequency bands have an impact on the choice of communications technology for utilities?

MD: The available frequency bands are country dependent: mainly CENELEC A in Europe, ARIB in Japan and FCC in the US. A utility has to comply with the rules defined by the authorities in its country.

As a G3-PLC Alliance member, the utility will access the most up-to-date information and have the tools required to make an informed decision. MI


Image Credit: 123rf.

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Nicholas Nhede is an experienced energy sector writer based in Clarion Event's Cape Town office. He has been writing for Smart Energy International’s print and online media platforms since 2015, on topics including metering, smart grids, renewable energy, the Internet of Things, distributed energy resources and smart cities. Originally from Zimbabwe, Nicholas holds a diploma in Journalism and Communication Studies. Nicholas has a passion for how technology can be used to accelerate the energy transition and combat climate change.