5G gives utilities and power producers a connectivity upgrade

5G gives utilities and power producers a connectivity upgrade

By Jorge Hurtado

5G (fifth generation) is the latest generation of cellular/wireless network technology that is already here and promises to deliver (i) data as much as 100 times faster speeds than fourth generation long-term evolution (LTE); (ii) lower latency; and (iii) highly consistent connectivity.

5G is a valuable tool not just for better and faster data for our cell phones, but also for helping to optimize increasingly scarce infrastructure resources such as traffic, transportation, electric power, and utilities.

5G and its impact on connecting utilities:

Technological opportunities to manage infrastructure are already available, and several devices have the capability to sense, actuate, and communicate; yet utilities currently work under multiple disparate sets of networks. Some of the challenges of the sector relate to the existence of complex communications systems, a lack of grids to incorporate energy produced by wind and solar sources, the inability to compete in open markets with other utility companies, aging infrastructure, and the incapacity to offer a quality consumer experience. 

What 5G offers is a systematic change that allows utilities to start adopting the use of a single simplified and unified network platform. Because it delivers multiple Gbps faster than the latest LTE, 5G can rapidly upload firmware images to address critical security issues in smart meters. With low latencies, utility companies can send, in real time, commands to change the configurations of distribution devices as needed. Also attractive is the ability of 5G to interconnect a massive number of sensors per cell, which could allow utilities to monitor and control devices and equipment to assess functionality and deal with emergency cases remotely and more quickly.

5G in solar cells, wind turbine sensors and actuators, and utilities:

The following are some examples demonstrating how 5G is making a great impact across industries, especially those related with the management and administration of energy:

  • The project 5G RuralFirst is the first of its kind to utilize a light communication system to transmit data at high speeds over light spectrums across a number of remote rural properties in the Orkney Islands, Shropshire, and Somerset, Scotland. Properties are getting high-speed wireless broadband using solar panels as receivers, forming new light fidelity (Li-Fi) networks.
  • Wind parks are considered to be industrial networks. Wind turbines contain a significant number of sensors and actuators that, once connected, can communicate among themselves, configure any connected device in real time, and provide access to certified tenants. The VirtuWind project — a virtual and programmable industrial network prototype deployed in an operational wind park — is developing software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) ecosystems aiming to develop novel mechanisms to implement industrial-grade quality of service and reduce capital and operational expenditures. In this case, 5G will leverage principles for SDN- and NFV-scalable and flexible network management in wind parks across Europe.
  • nCentric and Citymesh have finished covering the Belgian offshore North Sea wind farms with 5G pLTE, which provides a coverage area of approximately 20 km in  radius. The importance of this project is that offshore operations can make use of a stable, powerful, and redundant link to share high-speed data. 
  • One of the most ambitious European projects in 5G is the Finish WIVE project, which is aiming to “build the foundation for innovative wireless solutions bringing new experiences to end-users.” The supporting 5G network structure is being tested in the Finish cities of Espoo, Helsinki, Oulu, Tampere, Turku, and Ylivieska. The applications range from media and entertainment to connectivity for industry, including smart grids and remotely controlled machines. Smart grids, in particular, deploy cutting technology like 5G, AI, and IoT in places such as Espoo, a city with 280,000 habitants, where every household has a smart-energy meter.

In sum, the deployment of 5G technologies in utilities will likely happen in the next few years. From improving electricity management in cities, to enabling better communication and data sharing at renewable energy facilities, to bringing far-flung generation assets virtually closer, 5G will advance a host of critical goals for utilities and power producers.

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