Industrial Automation

Preparing Utility Networks to Bring Renewable Energy in the Mix

Arnau Vasquez and Guilhermme Lisboa
As utilities integrate renewable energy sources with their legacy infrastructure, they must keep these communications and cybersecurity considerations in mind.


Last year, the renewable capacity of the world’s energy systems grew by 50% compared to the year before—and this growth is expected to persist. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), in the next five years, the world is on pace to add more renewable capacity than we’ve seen in the last 100 years.


When it comes to large installations, such as solar or wind farms, there are set standards in place to help guide the integration of renewable energy sources into traditional power grids. In short, renewable energy sources connect to the grid through substations and/or power lines.


From the perspectives of communications and security, however, established best practices aren’t as clear or straightforward.


The Challenges of Integrating Renewable Energy

Coal- or gas-powered plants can be built in any location. But when renewable energy sources like sun and wind come into play, installation sites must be built wherever Mother Nature dictates—which often means isolated locations, or even offshores.


These difficult-to-access sites create communication challenges that most traditional power transmission and distribution companies don’t often face. For example, remote monitoring, secure access and engineering must all be possible so operators and supervisors can gauge performance in real-time and ensure safe and efficient operations.


As the grid expands and more renewable-energy generation sites are installed, cybersecurity also becomes more of a concern. Adding new capabilities to a utility network opens the door to new types of risks. In fact, utility cyberattacks have more than doubled in the last two years, as the rapid growth of connected assets expands attack surfaces and surpasses existing cybersecurity capabilities.


3 Applications that Are Critical for Renewable Energy Integration

Power transmission and distribution companies must build out network infrastructure that protects valuable data as it is acquired, transmitted, orchestrated and managed to support new applications brought forth by the integration of renewable energy.


Here are just a few examples of these applications.


1. Monitoring Plant Conditions and Infrastructure

Remote monitoring is critical to optimize the integration of renewable energy into existing infrastructure. It allows operators and supervisors to track:

  • Performance of photovoltaic power stations and wind turbines from anywhere through the collection of real-time data by SCADA systems from sensors, meters and devices

  • Equipment behavior, including anomalies that may impact operations, so they can be addressed before failure occurs

  • Trends and patterns that can help workers make data-driven decisions to further improve performance


Utility networks must be able to securely gather, contextualize, analyze, integrate and connect OT data, and then bring this information together with network analytics. This allows supervisors and operators to understand what their legacy and modern assets and networks are telling them, and then analyze those conversations to make better decisions.


2. Remote Access for Workers

There are three common scenarios to consider for remote access, which lets users access a utility’s network, applications and/or data from remote locations:


  • Offsite workers, such as leaders, who need access to plant data when they’re at home, on the road, in the field, etc. so they can do things like upgrade software or make minor parameter changes without being onsite.

  • Onsite workers who want a big-picture view of what’s happening from an office, a conference room, the maintenance room, etc. without having to physically monitor activity.

  • Service contractors and other third-party vendors that perform maintenance or need network, data or application access for other purposes.


Networks must be able to offer secure remote access connections to safely reduce the amount of money and time dedicated to things like maintenance and troubleshooting. This enables your power transmission and distribution company to grant individual levels of access based on what users need to accomplish. The system should also be able to support simultaneous connectivity and track who makes which changes, establishing an audit trail.


3. Preventive and Predictive Maintenance 

Capturing plant data enables better, more effective maintenance. By tracking equipment health through parameters such as temperature, vibration and pressure, workers can see in real-time which devices are operating properly and which may need maintenance soon. This allows them to devote time and resources to the equipment that needs attention instead of fixing issues after they arise or according to a time-based schedule (when maintenance may or may not be needed).  

Networks must be able to capture, transmit and share the data you need from the machine to the cloud—securely and reliably—so you can turn analytics into actionable predictive maintenance intelligence. 

We Can Answer Your Questions About Renewable Energy Integration 

As you prepare to integrate renewable energy into the mix, Belden can serve as your resource. Our in-house experts have decades of industry experience and can share the best practices and recommendations they’ve cultivated based on real-world successes. 

We can not only help you prepare your infrastructure and network to integrate renewable energy into the mix but also make sure it’s secure. Our data acquisition, transmission, orchestration and management capabilities can support every step of your data’s journey, from ingestion to the cloud, and ensure a secure network edge. 

Learn about our connected energy solutions.


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