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Nokia Establishes Transatlantic Test Lab for Power Utilities

Nokia has linked its ‘energy innovation centre’ in Plano, Texas, with the University of Strathclyde’s power systems lab in Glasgow, Scotland, to create a transatlantic test lab for utilities to experiment with power grid automation, monitoring and control.

The joint facility will allow energy utilities, anywhere, to evaluate new applications on a ‘real-world’ network without putting power supplies at risk, said Nokia.

“It brings together communications and grid assets that utilities can either make use of remotely, from their own test labs, or in a single virtual test lab, or come into our lab for a week to run tests in our facilities. It gives them a platform for more innovation,” said Dave Christophe, marketing director for energy solutions at Nokia.

The pair have used software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN) to connect the sites securely, via whatever broadband connections are available, said Nokia. Utilities can mimic current grid and communications architecture, and model solutions. Benefits include faster time-to-market, reduced risk, lower costs and greater predictability of outcome, said Nokia.

Chirstophe said: “The utility industry has been very static for a long time. But that is changing. The market has been disrupted by renewables and, more recently, the cost of energy storage coming down. The business model is changing. Demand is no longer increasing, and it is even going down in some markets.”

The rise of renewable energy sources, distributed storage devices and other smart grid technologies means better communications infrastructure is needed to support the flow of data required for energy management.

“The need for reliable power and grid management is paramount. Utilities are looking for ways to manage supply and demand,” said Christophe.

“The flow of energy has changed. It used to be the big utilities generated the power, and energy came down the transmission lines to the homes and businesses. That’s no longer the case. The flow is not just going in one direction anymore. Homes and businesses are generating their own power, and distributing it back into the grid,” said Christophe.

This long-distance link will enable utilities with highly distributed grids, including those in multiple countries or regions, to assess the performance of applications and equipment, such as remotely located wind turbines, over long distances, a capability not available in traditional test labs.

“There are very large utility services in Europe with subsidiaries or wind-farms in South America. With this, they can test remote control of certain assets within a lab environment. It opens up new possibilities in terms of testing new concepts and services,” said Christophe.

Nokia has been engaged with the energy market for “decades”, running IP-MPLA connections between sub-stations, and continues to expand its work with the sector as a matter of priority, matched only by its enterprise engagements in the public sector, with the smart city, public safety and defence sectors. “We are diversifying,” said Christophe.

The Finnish vendor will use the Plano-Glasgow set-up to test its emerging market-focused LTE and WAN solutions, said Christophe. “It’s a real mix,” he said of its tech portfolio for utilities. “There is a lot that can be accomplished by marrying communications with more automation capabilities on the grid itself.”

He added: “Utilities are pushing communications further and further out towards homes and offices in order to achieve tighter control of energy flow because of the introduction of renewables and storage.That’s driving the need for technologies like private LTE – because its high reliability and low latency affords that control.”

For the University of Strathclyde, the partnership represents an opportunity for its post-doc students to make apply theoretical concepts in practical trials. “One of the things we will work on initially is an algorithm for reliability, applying academia in commercial applications.”

Steven Blair, research fellow at the department of electronic and electrical engineering department at Strathclyde, commented: “This partnership combines Strathclyde’s equipment for modelling and simulating complex events in the grid with Nokia’s end-to-end communications systems to allow us to validate existing and future grid applications in a realistic environment.”

The first joint work is expected within six months, said Christophe. The objective is to publish the results of their collaboration in a use-case library, available at no cost, to spur innovation among utilities.

“The unique thing about the utility industry is the big players don’t compete; they share information. This partnership will increase sharing between utilities. It will help improve their game, overall, and enable the market to come up with new ideas and businesses, and ways to be efficient.

Lab resources are being made available to utilities at no charge; they must only reserve lab resources, physical or virtual, ahead of time, and are obliged for security purposes to connect via SD-WAN.  – Enterprise IoT Insights

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