Phil Rigden of Western Power Distribution (WPD) discusses recent Nokia 4.9G/LTE and future 5G network tests on its smart power grid.

In August, Nokia announced that it had provided a private 4.9G, long term evolution (LTE), wireless network to Western Power Distribution (WPD) – which distributes electricity to the Midlands, south West of England and south Wales – at its test and development centre in Taunton, Somerset.

A fourth-generation (4G) wireless standard, LTE provides increased network capacity and speed for mobile devices versus third-generation (3G) technology.

Nokia worked with WPD to install and test Nokia 4.9G/LTE modular private wireless (MPW) – which enables users to build private networks for small to very large industrial sites and field area networks. This will provide a platform for WPD to trial various smart grid use-cases, from improved network monitoring to automation, that ensure it continues to meets regulatory standards.

The collaboration also saw WPD implement one of Nokia’s video call solutions alongside the Finnish tech giant’s industrial user equipment, such as workpads, to support supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) and other applications.

Discussing the trial in August, Phil Rigden, telecoms manager for WPD, said: “Through the challenges posed by the pandemic, we have worked closely with Nokia over the last two years to demonstrate the capability of its 4.9G/LTE private wireless solution to support the operation of our smartgrid including SCADA, voice, video and data services.

“We have been able to document key learnings to share with the utility industry that confirm the suitability of 4.9G/LTE and 5G to provide the connectivity platform for tomorrow’s grid.”

Details of WPD and Nokia’s trial come against the backdrop of a broader government push for innovation in networks having recently announced a £4 million competition for ideas to embed 5G kit into public and curbside infrastructure, such as bus shelters, lamp posts and traffic lights.

This follows the £30m UK-wide Rural Connected Communities competition, launched in August 2019, with up to 10 locations chosen to run trials of 5G applications.

‘Everyday communication service’

Speaking to Utility Week Innovate, Rigden adds that the trial is driven by WPD’s desire to seek out “quantitative and experiential values”.

“If proven viable, sharing the outputs with other DNOs, BEIS and Ofgem is a real potential solution to strengthen the UK’s critical services for the future as we continue to migrate into the digital era and commence meeting the UK’s low carbon objectives,” he explains.

“The quantitative element will greatly assist with understanding scale, cost and supplement regulatory investment planning when appropriate.”

Thus far, Rigden says that the trial has been “very successful”.
“We’ve proven that private LTE works,” he says. “For our use case, it requires a spectrum sweet spot to ensure the network configuration of masts and base stations is not too great in number with an adequate density to match our topography, reaching remote assets located in some of our countries valleys or basins.

“We know it can sit alongside other communication networks, can be configured to serve other essential services should the service be likened to support them and therefore made resilient to power failure where we need it.

“This also means it won’t just be a business continuity system,” Rigden continues. “We would use it as an everyday communication service for voice, video, data, operational telecoms such as SCADA for monitoring or control.”

Being available when others are not

According to Rigden, investing in a private digital system that touches all parts of grid modernisation and assets affords licence holders – for example a DNO and GNO infrastructure users – a raft of further benefits.

“It will have enhanced cyber security compared to a commercial cellular system and it would have unique but standardised protocols for both existing network operators and new distributed energy resources entrants with asset sharing of land rights and the physical equipment – therefore allowing for cost sharing to avoid duplication of effort and cost,” he says.

“Ultimately, and most importantly, the biggest benefit is improving the experience to all our connected customers in terms of the service they receive e.g. keeping the lights on, the resiliency of the network that serves them as the nature of our energy mix evolves to a low carbon future.”

Yet Rigden adds that while 3G, 4G and 5G as standardized under the third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) have all been highly successful for mass use as they are geared for high volume and serving their end user in dense populated locations, the electricity industry must strive for stronger service in years to come.

“If the power fails for whatever reason, or the security becomes compromised, the users are likely to lose use of the service,” he says. “The electricity industry of the future cannot accept the same standard, it needs to be available when others are not.

“This includes monitoring and controlling electricity assets when all other systems are off, as that’s when the electricity industry needs to communicate the most; restoring the energy required of our villages, towns and cities as fast and as safely as we can.”

Currently, private LTE is subject to recieving the appropriate spectrum which would allow its deployment throughout WPD’s license areas using predominantly WPD-owned sites for base and outstations to allow radio connectivity at a granular level to most electricity distribution assets as required.

“Therefore, we can offer reliable digital communications with our assets as we evolve to a low-carbon future where we will see an exponential increase in connected low-carbon technology for both asset operators – electricity distribution, generation and battery technology – and the consumer – electric cars and electric heat pumps,” Rigden continues.

“A private LTE network would be designed to be scalable, have power resiliency in areas of importance or criticality, and will therefore support day-to-day business operations, but also remain available due to its resiliency during a high-impact, low-probability event such as those listed on the UK government’s national risk register.”

‘More robust sibling’

Rigden adds: “Building on a standard ( IEEE IP MPLS / 3GPP ) promotes a wide ecosystem of solutions which share common foundations and principles.

“A private LTE solution would have many other tangible benefits, whilst being tailored for high volume, small packet data such as SCADA use, from both urban and remote locations,” he summarises. “It will also be capable of voice, video and other data use cases specific to our key role of keeping the lights on 24/7, or getting them back on quickly if they do go off.

“So whilst private LTE will use similar technology to commercial cellular networks used by us all for mobile phone or tablet use, like video streaming, gaming, messaging and social media, private LTE will be its more robust sibling,” he adds, “with approved users under a government approved license, resilient by design to power failure, enhanced for cyber security and therefore highly reliable, regardless of risk or circumstance.”

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