It is recognition five years in the making. After years of research, development and real-world application, Salt River Project senior engineer Kyle Cormier and Joe Nowaczyk, former director of Electronic Systems, are being honored for their work, which focuses on enabling technologies to make grid modernization more reliable for SRP customers and the overall power industry into the future. They received the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) Technology Transfer Award. It is given annually to EPRI members who have led technology transfer efforts on behalf of their companies and the energy industry at large. The awards were presented during meetings of EPRI’s Power Delivery and Utilization (PDU) advisors in Phoenix on Tuesday.
SRP is a collaborating member of EPRI’s Smart Grid Demonstration Initiative, along with seven other utilities. As part of its preparation for the smart grid or “grid of the future,” SRP conducted a Field Area Network (FAN) Pilot. The effort positions SRP to meet the future wireless communications needs for the proliferation of intelligent electronic devices (IEDs) beyond substations. Under Nowaczyk’s conceptualization and direction, Cormier engineered and improved utility communications through a private wireless network.
“It is a revolution for a utility to have this communication infrastructure,” said Nowaczyk, who is currently SRP’s director of Electric System Maintenance. “Utility communication technologies are coming of age with the rest of the evolution of consumer communications, like we see with our cell phones. SRP is now able to communicate and automate more of the grid to increase reliability and reduce outage duration when outages occur. That is the foundation of the communication network we created — to provide the high-speed data transfer, wirelessly and securely.”
SRP’s existing wireless communication systems can be characterized as first generation (1G). The systems are unique-point solutions, each typically servicing only one application. They include 900 MHz licensed and unlicensed point-to-multipoint, paging, 900 MHz unlicensed mesh, and public carrier systems.
SRP envisions the majority of these systems will be unified using a wireless broadband network. This field area network is intended to provide network connectivity and services for a variety of applications, including distribution feeder automation, volt-var optimization, water SCADA, line and transformer monitoring and distributed energy resource integration.
The four main elements of the FAN pilot were:
- An analysis of technical options for the FAN infrastructure
- A FAN pilot deployment
- Cyber security penetration testing
- A cost-benefit analysis of the applications that could benefit or be enabled by the FAN
“We built a three-site WiMAX system in the Phoenix area and found existing application technologies already in operation throughout the company to test,” said Nowaczyk. We hooked them up to this network and ran performance testing of the data speeds, while checking the cyber-security protocols to ensure the network could handle all the data transfer and be secure. Now that we’re done, we can plan out how to scale up to build a bigger network. The key is getting spectrum, and securing spectrum is managed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).”
According to Mark McGranaghan, vice president of PDU at EPRI, the 2014 Technology Transfer Award winners made significant achievements in applying EPRI research results, or “acting as champions” for EPRI research programs. “The commitment and collaboration demonstrated by these individuals and teams enables the power industry to continuously improve its safety, reliability, affordability and be more environmentally responsible for the benefit of their stakeholders and society.”
Utility companies have an infrastructure need for wireless communication, and by optimizing new technologies can modernize the grid aimed at automated or enhanced switching during outages to increase reliability and help customers. Because of its rare and robust fiber optic network, SRP is in a uniquely advantageous position within the utility industry to benefit immediately from a private wireless network and backhaul the data. The EPRI award recognizes SRP for being an industry leader.
“Last-mile communications is our communications as a utility from the substation out,” added Nowaczyk. “We have substations roughly every four square miles, and we have fiber optic communications at every substation. Our wireless network allows us to go beyond the substation to communicate to devices on the grid, so it’s that ‘last mile.’”
Cormier added, “SRP’s continued collaboration with industry organizations such as EPRI, the Utilities Telecom Council (UTC), vendors and other utilities is critical in creating economies of scale when providing last-mile communications. It’s through this scale that standards, lower prices and efficiency can occur.”
EPRI presented its 2014 Technology Transfer Awards for PDU research and development to 46 individuals, representing 29 electric power companies.
“The Technology Transfer Award is meaningful to me because it confirms the work I’m doing is beneficial to SRP and the industry,” said Cormier. “EPRI’s Smart Grid Demonstration Initiative provided SRP valuable knowledge, experience and awareness in the continued advancement of the electric grid. SRP’s FAN pilot demonstrated the importance of wireless communications in providing connectivity to devices in the distribution system that stretch beyond the reach of the fiber optic systems.”
The SRP FAN team has proposed that a private wireless broadband network be built to enable and advance
grid automation, customer application benefits and cost optimization. As previously noted by Nowaczyk, it will require licensed spectrum acquisition from the FCC, which is being pursued. It is a real possibility that one day SRP will own and operate a fourth generation (4G) network, much like mobile carriers.
“My vision is that someday SRP will have its own network, and instead of a public carrier SIM card in every remote device, all remote grid intelligent devices would hook up to this network and have an ‘SRP SIM card’ for every device on the distribution system, but that’s at least another five plus years away,” added Nowaczyk.