One size doesn't fit all

Tantalus WANRealizing that smart grid means different things to different people, utilities are coming at the smart grid concept from different angles. For some electric utilities, the first step has been to focus on modernizing the monitoring systems for their internal network, including substations and electric transmission facilities. Traditionally leveraging proprietary methods, utilities seem to be more open now to using IP-enabled elements to manage these facilities.

Having built out an open access Fiber to the Home (FTTH) network where it sells capacity to area service providers, Mason County Public Utility District No. 3 is using the network to connect its substations, security cameras and even its own unified communications voice/data network. By "eating its own dog food," or leveraging its own fiber network, Dale E. Knutson, Telecommunications Manager, Mason County PUD No. 3., said that it has realized over $0.5 million in cost savings.

"We're not doing smart grid in the home, but we're connecting up what we call re-closures, substations and regulators," Knutson said. "We're bringing all of that data back through our own network and into our centralized computer services for monitoring and managing our electric grid."

Knutson added that since the network is carrying SCADA and other traffic, Mason County did not have to retrain its staff. "We will take our SCADA or grid control, which is required by federal law to be secure and isolated, and run it through the same network with tools to accomplish the same task," he said. This means "we don't have to duplicate the skills of workers on the electric side as opposed to the telecom side."

Taking a "starting from the core and building out" approach, Wisconsin-based Sun Prairie Water and Light (SPWL) has developed a fiber access architecture that can accommodate its own needs and others'. The water and electric utility has built a 10 Gbps Ethernet ring is also serving SPWL's own internal utility network. Initially leveraging copper lines from Verizon, SPWL realized it would be better to just leverage their own network. After building out its 10 Gbps network system, which now accommodates the school district, SPWL was looking for network connectivity for its water utility's SCADA system.

Tantalus Itron system"We were currently leasing copper lines from Verizon and were thinking about smart metering coming in the near future so it seemed to make sense to put it all on our own network," said Gary Sanders, general manager of SPWL. "This would give us options if we wanted to put cameras at our sites."

In addition to its water utility, SPWL plans to convert its electric utility to the new SCADA system. "For switching operations in the substation, the new SCADA system will allow us to do that remotely and with Gigabit fiber optic infrastructure we could put a camera to get a visual confirmation to see if a switch is opened or closed," Sanders said. 

Unlike SPWL and Mason, Tennessee's Pulaski Electric System has bitten the smart meter bullet. Thus far, it has deployed smart meters to two-thirds of its customer base. Leveraging GE and Itron meters that are tied back into its AMI system, Pulaski gets hourly reading of customer meters. In addition, Pulaski is in the process of piloting remote connects and disconnects to turn off customer devices when power is constricted.

However, Kelly says that "gets fairly complicated in terms of how you set up the customer programs on how to encourage participation in that, and we have not worked out those policy issues yet."

One size doesn't fit all