As smart grid deployments come into their own, many utilities face the complication of deploying a network over a service territory to support the delivery of electricity, gas, and/or water services.
Challenges arise when one utility’s service area comprises different products and incongruous territories for each of those products. This is particularly relevant with respect to the selection and optimal deployment of technologies and support systems, which can accommodate a number of applications and a variety of use cases. Such systems require a flexible and extensible communication infrastructure that reaches all the way to the end-user premises. When deploying a mesh network, for example, network devices can be readily powered in an electric territory. In gas- or water-only territories, where a utility doesn’t own electric distribution assets, planners will have to sort out a variety of strategic and operational questions.
It isn’t uncommon for a utility’s gas, and/or electric, and/or water service territories to be incongruous, or only partly congruous. How will smart grid network devices then be powered? How will the backhaul work, and how much will it cost? Where will network devices be installed, and what right-of-way implications will arise? The smart grid communications solution and the smart grid business case are significantly affected by the topography of the territory to be covered and by the relative distribution of devices to be monitored and controlled.
Network devices are expensive, and bandwidth/capacity is also costly. The design and implementation of communication systems that serve very high densities of end devices, such as urban areas, and very low densities of end devices, such as a gas- or water-only territory, can be especially problematic and substantially impact the overall cost of the systems’ deployment and operation. Other technical complications that result in higher-than-expected numbers of truck rolls (field activities, repairs, and installations) can also impact the enterprise-level business case for the overall system.
The devil—and ultimate success—of the financial case for smart grid deployment is in the details. Part of that case is directly related to the technical and operational approach adopted for the installation and optimization of the network. Complex service territories present pitfalls and opportunities, which can make smart grid a success or a costly headache.