Planning for the Smart Grid has had a huge impact on the way power utilities manage their operating data and control networks. The convergence of IP technology, Smart Grid imperatives and the increased need for security as characterized in the NERC CIP regulations in North America has provided an opportunity for power utilities to rethink their operating strategies and come up with innovative ways to integrate the new and the old in order to position themselves for the future. This exercise has generated a body of knowledge that is instructive for all industrial networking applications.


IP is a game-changing technology that is the basis for three compelling benefits for power utilities—particularly in the areas of substation automation and power transmission and distribution processes:

  • The overall reduction of operations expense from creating an IP-based infrastructure that integrates operational and non-operational data
  • Viable distributed intelligence applications that allow decision making in remote locations as well as in the central operations or central offices
  • Comprehensive grid operations and grid management security  

As the power utility community has grappled with these opportunities and issues, key lessons have emerged that can be applied to any industrial networking system. The first lesson is to plan for scalable bandwidth which is necessary to successfully implement any Smart Grid strategy. Fiber backbones are a basis of most large-scale data management strategies because of fiber's excellent properties for providing high bandwidth over long distances, noise immunity, and inherent security features (because it is not easy to tap). Fiber is also flexible enough to support the installation of new nodes as demand on the network increases. With increased acceptance, coupled with the steep rise in the cost of copper, fiber is seen as a cost-effective and secure alternative to dedicated T1 or dial up lines, and it is well matched with IP infrastructure solutions.

The next lesson is to explore heavier-duty switches and routers to support expanding demands for more equipment attachments. Just as the numbers of entities on the overall Smart Grid infrastructure are increasing, so are the numbers of nodes required within each of those entities. To cleanly support data and control systems demand generated from increased network complexity, designers need to be able to choose Ethernet switches and routers equipped with varying numbers of ports. Particularly at the core of the network, it is inefficient and expensive to pile multiple low-port-count switches together, wasting two ports per device for connectivity, and this practice results in additional and unnecessary points of failure. Where larger port-count devices were once deployed only in climate-controlled central offices, today one sees installations of 24-port and 36-port switches at the nerve center of the substation, where the environmental conditions demand substantial hardening. These larger substation switches connect with smaller-port-count switches installed as the deployment approaches the network edge.

To learn more from Smart Grid lessons for your industrial network, check out this blog where we revisit this very same topic.

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