Navigant Research Blog

It’s Time Critical Infrastructure Had a Standardized, Licensed Spectrum Band

— June 12, 2018

US power utilities are grappling with challenges ranging from growing distributed energy resource (DER) penetration (e.g., solar and EVs), business model disruption, and low to no load growth. Navigant Research has covered the utility business model extensively in its Energy Cloud thought leadership series, and has found that it will shift markedly over the next 10-20 years. A more decentralized and services-centric model will emerge where value is created, not by the delivery of electrons but rather by the provision of services. This shift will bring a multitude of challenges to electric utilities.

To meet these challenges, utilities will need extensive networking capabilities to support applications ranging from visibility into behind-the-meter energy generation to enhanced customer engagement and more. While in the past utilities have tended to build ad hoc, application-specific, silo-based networks using unlicensed or narrowband licensed frequencies, going forward this approach will not suffice.

Critical Networks Stand to Benefit from a Nationwide Licensed Broadband Spectrum

During the next decade, Navigant Research expects the number of connected devices within the average utility to grow by an order of magnitude—at least—and the volume of data coming from each connected device will also climb. At the same time, the number of non-utility connected devices using unlicensed spectrum bands will increase by 400% or more.

The exponentially growing use of unlicensed bands could affect utility network performance and grid reliability. Add in the numerous operating and business model pressures that utilities today face, and it becomes clear that there is a pressing need for a nationwide, standardized licensed spectrum band around which power utilities and other critical infrastructure providers can build their critical networks.

A nationwide licensed broadband spectrum allocation combined with buildouts based on commercial technology standards will ensure that utilities are able to implement the solutions necessary to manage not only reliable and affordable power delivery, but also financial stability in the rapidly changing energy economy.

Utility Networking Technology Selection Map

(Sources: Navigant Research, Electric Power Research Institute)

If utilities and regulatory bodies can work together to rally around a single spectrum band, this would solve an urgent and growing need of the industry and facilitate roaming and cooperation by personnel from disparate utilities. Vendors could then standardize on the band, bringing substantial economies of scale—particularly if the de facto commercial wireless technology standard, LTE, is used.

For more on this topic, read Navigant Research’s new white paper, sponsored by pdvWireless: The Urgent Need for a Licensed Broadband Spectrum Allocation for Critical Infrastructure. The paper describes the critical drivers behind utilities’ need for licensed, standardized broadband spectrum in the US, including DER integration, growing concern over grid resiliency and the increased risk of cyberattack, and the changing requirements that competition places on customer service organizations.

 

Mapping Smart City Applications to Smart Street Lighting Platforms

— June 28, 2017

City managers interested in smart street lighting applications today can choose among a multitude of technologies and vendors. Questions such as cost, functionality, useful life, and ability to accommodate other applications over time, however, can make the decision-making process overwhelming.

To provide guidance, Navigant Research performed a heatmap analysis in a study commissioned by smart street lighting vendor Echelon. The heatmap compares the characteristics of various narrowband, mediumband, and broadband network technologies with the performance and cost characteristics required by 10 different smart city applications. Network technology features such as costs, reliability, security, latency, and bandwidth, among others, were evaluated.

Smart City Platforms and Applications: Suitability Heatmap

(Source: Navigant Research)

The analysis indicated that for a balance of cost and functionality, the mediumband options, such as power line carrier (PLC) and radio frequency (RF) mesh technologies, offer several advantages. For basic lighting controls, there are several narrowband connectivity options that will work at a competitive price—but they are limited in terms of capacity for additional applications to be layered on top.

In contrast, broadband options such as point-to-multipoint RF solutions, public 3G or 4G networks, or Wi-Fi may be robust enough to handle even high bandwidth applications like closed circuit TV—but at a higher price. Wi-Fi—public access or private—may also bring higher security concerns to municipalities, as there are publicly available hacking tools for cracking Wi-Fi networks. Also, public access Wi-Fi may see its throughput constrained by citizens streaming video over their phones; this could impair the efficacy of higher speed applications such as smart traffic light controls or gunshot detection.

Advanced Controls Have Advantages

At the most basic level, lighting controls provide elementary features such as remote on-off control, dimming, and scheduling functions. There is also a wide range of advanced functions that can be enabled by intelligent controls, including energy monitoring and billing, performance monitoring, color controls, adaptive lighting, and emergency response.

Beyond the capabilities for advanced lighting controls, street lighting networks also have the potential to support a range of non-lighting applications: environmental/air quality monitoring, traffic monitoring, smart parking, and gunshot detection. An even wider range of applications may benefit from sharing the network infrastructure. These might include traffic light controls, smart waste management, public messaging/ digital signage, or high definition video surveillance.

New applications for smart street lighting platforms are emerging still. New ideas such as controlling sprinkler systems or controlling public restroom locks have been raised—and other new ideas are sure to emerge as connectivity becomes more ubiquitous.

Better Quality of Life

A growing number of cities globally are looking for ways to not only reduce their energy expenses, but also improve the efficiency of city operations and provide a better quality of life to their citizens. As such, the selection of the appropriate smart street lighting platform that meets both long-term goals and near-term constraints should be given careful consideration.

For further detail on smart city applications, street lighting as a platform, and the relevant connectivity platforms discussed herein, see the Smart Street Lighting as a Smart City Platform white paper, available here. Navigant’s Navigating the Energy Transformation white paper, available here, also provides a related discussion of smart city solutions as a platform in the Energy Cloud era.

 

Clearing the Data Hurdle for Effective Asset Performance Management

— June 9, 2017

Few in the utility industry today disagree with the notion that technical advances in terms of sensing and analytics are yielding powerful new solutions for asset performance management (APM) and predictive maintenance. Many would also agree, however, that there are challenges for utilities ready to digitize their asset management program. Indeed, finding, consolidating, mapping, cleansing, and storing the data from a multitude of sources can seem like a daunting challenge.

Best practices are emerging as major utilities take the APM plunge, and meaningful benefits to holistic APM strategies are now clear. One transmission operator, for example, has avoided five major transformer failures since the implementation of its APM program—and said that “just one or two saves paid for the system.”

With growing emphasis on reliability from regulators, aging infrastructure, and accelerating workforce retirement at utilities, the need for a utilitywide APM program has never been greater. Understanding the data challenges utilities are likely to face is an important first step to putting a plan in place.

Who, What, Where, When, and Why?

When preparing to deploy an APM solution, the five Ws should be asked in the context of company assets and data:

  • Who: Which operating divisions house data needed for the desired analytics? What institutional knowledge is held by which actors? How can it be incorporated into the APM system for preservation? How do IT and operational personnel coordinate efforts?
  • What: What datasets exist today? In what format? Electronic or paper-based? Is the data accuracy good? Is it verifiable? Are there new datasets that need to be developed?
  • Where: Where has asset data historically been housed? Where should it be stored going forward? Do I need a data lake? Can I store my data in the cloud? How should the transition be orchestrated? Is there data available in the field that is not communicated to the operations center? Should asset analytics be performed centrally or in the field?
  • When: How often should asset data be updated? Is there connectivity to the asset, allowing for real-time or on-demand reads?
  • Why: For what applications do I need this data? For what applications might I want the data in the future? What are my primary goals for the APM system—reducing maintenance expenses with proactive repairs and replacements? Reducing outage frequency/duration? Shoring up grid stability where solar penetration is high and growing? All of the above?

As the APM planning team drills down into each of these questions, new questions will become apparent. Testing and validation of analytics algorithms must be thorough and must be completed on an ongoing basis—rather than one and done. As new data becomes available, adjustments may be needed due to previously unforeseen situations.

Is It Worth It?

It’s still early days in the APM world, but clear benefits have been reported by utilities that have done pilots or full-scale deployments. As more utilities invest in APM solutions, it seems likely that the benefits—in terms of avoiding unnecessary repairs, preventing outages, averting capital investment, and efficiently managing field crews—will become apparent. New applications that can be created with a robust, agile APM platform and complete, quality datasets will also emerge.

Join the Webinar

If you’d like to learn more about the nitty gritty details of the APM world, attend the Navigant Research webinar, The Digital Future of Asset Performance Management. Join me, ABB’s Matthew Zafuto, and FirstEnergy’s Dana Parshall for an interactive discussion of the data challenges and lessons learned in FirstEnergy’s implementation of ABB’s Asset Health Center solution.

 

First (Nearly) Nationwide LPWA Network Now Available for Utility Applications

— April 4, 2017

On March 31, Verizon launched the first commercial LTE-Cat-M1 network across 2.4 million square miles in the United States. LTE-Cat-M1 is a cellular-based, low power wide area (LPWA) network designed to support the burgeoning Internet of Things (IoT) industry. Other LPWA solutions include ultra-narrowband systems such as SIGFOX, RPMA technology from Ingenu/Trilliant, the LoRA standard, and others.

Verizon said that the service will run at $2 per month per device (or less for large-scale deployments)—less than existing 2G or 3G cellular services that may be in use today by electric utilities. Chipsets and modules are available from Sequans, Telit, Qualcomm Technologies, Encore Networks, Link Labs, and NimbeLink. Modules from Qualcomm are also available with Verizon’s ThingSpace IoT cloud platform integrated.

In addition to low cost, LPWA solutions such as LTE-Cat-M1 are also known for very long battery life (10-20 years), as well as improved in-building/underground penetration. Click here to see an infographic highlighting the features of Verizon’s LTE-Cat-M1 offering. Rival AT&T has been trialing LTE-Cat-M1 in San Francisco since last fall and said in January that it would deploy to “most” of its network by mid-year and nationwide by year-end.

The LTE-Cat-M1 standard, along with the yet to be launched narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) and the GSM-based Extended Coverage-GSM-IoT (EC-GSM-IoT) standards, will be deployed via a software upgrade to existing LTE or GSM cellular networks. LTE-Cat-M1 is expected to be popular across North America, while many European cellular operators are more focused on the NB-IoT standard, which is expected to launch in 2018 along with EC-GSM-IoT.

IoT Comes of Age – for Utilities Too?

For power utilities, LPWA technologies promise to make widespread sensor networks an economic reality throughout the distribution grid. With costs as low as a dollar or two per year for some standards (SIGFOX and LoRA), depending upon data volume, utilities may finally be able to make a sound ROI argument for ubiquitous sensors.

As described in Navigant Research’s report, Low Power Wide Area Networks for Power Utility Applications, the LTE-Cat-M1 service may be appropriate for utility applications such as smart metering, distribution line monitoring and control, fault location, isolation, and restoration (FLISR), Volt/VAR optimization, smart solar inverter connectivity, and wide-scale asset management and monitoring functions.

Navigant Research expects the market for LPWA services and equipment among power utilities to grow by more than an order of magnitude over the next decade, from $23.4 million this year to nearly $280 million in 2026. The market is projected to be valued at more than $1.5 billion over this timeframe.

Total Utility LPWA Revenue by Region, World Markets: 2017-2026

(Source: Navigant Research)

 

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