Satya Gupta, Head IT, Tata Power

Smart grid is the deployment of smart technologies (real-time, automated, and interactive) that optimize the operation of electric grid devices up to consumer appliances. Deployment of smart grid technologies necessitates increased use of digital information and controls technology to improve reliability, security, and efficiency of the electric grid. Smart grid offers promising solutions for enhancing grid performance and increasing customer satisfaction, while creating a more sustainable environment.

Integrated communication network is the nervous system of Smart grid deployment. Smart grid applications like advance distribution management system, work force management system, advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), line differential, and wide area protection as well as integration of distributed energy resources require smart communication infrastructure which meets strict requirements of latency, reliability, scalability and security. 

Utilities face major challenges with their communication networks for maintaining reliable supply, renewing the aging obsolete infrastructure, integration of smart grid applications, and compliance with regulations regarding performance guarantee. Traditionally, utilities build their private communication network using time-division multiplexing (TDM) based solutions like SDH. Ethernet-over-SDH delivers carrier-class performance and supports the deterministic traffic for critical grid operations and other utility business services. However, because of increasing requirements of emerging applications and equipment’s end of life, TDM infrastructures are unable to meet long-term needs of utilities as many of the systems are built and operated for specific applications or solutions, creating siloes in infrastructures that make it more challenging to integrate new systems and operational processes.

To support this emerging applications needs within constrained budgets and increasing demands for operational efficiency, utilities may upgrade their present TDM-based infrastructures to packet systems technology, which is designed to offer new and better functions and higher levels of service. Packet technologies like IP/MPLS provide many advantages like: 

  • Support for legacy TDM systems; integration with private and public networks
  • High availability, scalability, fast convergence and high bandwidth
  • Quality of service (QoS), and traffic engineering
  • End-to-end segmentation among IT, mission critical OT, and business applications

Further, to ensure that power grid is always on, communication systems are designed to monitor and protect power grid against any failure and avoid cascading of problems through grid. In this regard, tele-protection system plays an important role. Most critical data transmitted across utility communication network are tele-protection signals, which require priority attention. 

With the growing global threat to the power sector from all across the verticals, it has now become imperative that this should be safeguarded at the maximum level of security, which needs to be taken care of through all stages of deployment of critical infrastructures. Cyber physical security plays a pivotal role in the maintenance of the network’s critical infrastructure as it is the only gateway where the risk of outside intrusion goes through. The tight coupling between information and communication technologies and physical systems introduces new security concerns, requiring a re-thinking of the commonly used objectives and methods for cyber security. Next-gen smart grid communications systems have embedded security features like:

  • Protection of the management of control and data planes through access control lists, filters, and authentication of signaling.
  • Prevent session hijacking, spoofing, denial of service.
  • SNMPv3 confidentiality and integrity features and secure shell (SSH) encryption.
  • Network address translation (NAT) protects and hides private addressing space from external entities.
  • Group encryption protects sensitive data during transit and ensures data integrity and privacy. 
  • Intrusion detection system (IDS) and intrusion protection system (IPS) detect and protect against network and traffic anomalies.

Utilities can deliver customer service excellence and business value by providing a modern communication platform and protection system that meets the immediate needs of today and anticipated evolving requirements of the future for at least the next ten years.


 

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