Smart Communication: Power utilities deploy technology for real-time grid monitoring

Government & Utilities , September 13, 2017

With the emergence of smart grid technologies and the concept of “prosumers”, the power sector is witnessing a paradigm shift in terms of automation and real-time monitoring of the grid. Smart grid technology involves the exchange and transfer of a huge quantum of data, thereby necessitating two-way data communication across the entire power value chain. A robust and dynamic communication system is, therefore, vital for efficient monitoring, control and operation of the smart grid-enabled power system. A well-connected communication system helps utilities access real-time data and take action in a timely manner, thereby improving the safety and reliability of the grid. In order to meet the increasing demand for electricity and better quality power, the existing grid needs to be equipped with advanced metering, distributed generation and energy storage devices, which require robust communication technologies.

Communication options

Power utilities can choose from a wide variety of communication options depending on their needs. These include power line carrier (PLC), wireless technologies, wireline technologies and optical fibre cables (OFC). All these supplement the transmission and distribution process by enhancing communication between the systems.

PLC is a traditional and reliable technology available to electric power utilities for establishing critical communication channels and protection signalling. In PLC, the radio frequency signals are transmitted through power transmission lines. This technology has an appreciably higher mechanical strength as compared to ordinary lines, which implies that it remains unaffected even in adverse conditions.

OFC, on the other hand, have high bandwidth that enables the transfer of huge quantum of data over long distances. Moreover, fibre optic transmission results in less attenuation compared to traditional copper wires. There are various types of OFCs - underground, aerial and optical ground wire (OPGW). OPGW is being used in the smart grid to provide both grounding capabilities for transmission lines and communications network to utility systems such as supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA).

In wireless communication, microwave radio and VSAT (very small aperture terminal) technologies are deployed. In addition, several other communication technologies such as mesh network and general packet radio service can also be deployed by utilities.

MPPTCL’s experience

Madhya Pradesh Power Transmission Corporation Limited’s (MPPTCL) state load despatch centre (SLDC) has implemented state-of-the-art SCADA for real-time monitoring of the grid. The utility has three control centres – an SLDC at Jabalpur, a sub-LDC at Indore, and a backup SLDC cum sub-LDC each at Bhopal and Indore –  Inter-Control Center Communications Protocol.

The SCADA system has enabled integration of around 225 remote terminal units (RTUs) installed across substations and generating stations. The SCADA communicates to RTUs through the IEC 60870-5-101 protocol and the IEC 60870-5-104 protocol. Other data communication channels deployed by the SLDC include PLC, OPGW-based OFC communication back bone, V-SAT and leased lines.

Besides, MPPTCL has its own OPGW-based optical fibre network. Currently, OPGW is available on 800 km of extra high voltage (EHV) lines while work is in progress for 700 km EHV lines. The utility also has 13 wideband nodes and the establishment of another 24 is currently in the pipeline.

A shortcoming of the existing SCADA system is that it provides only a steady state view of the power system. SCADA takes few seconds to deliver a snapshot of the grid whose characteristic is changing very fast. In order to overcome these shortcomings, MPPTCL has implemented wide area monitoring system (WAMS) under the Unified Real Time Dynamic State Measurement Project. WAMS deploys phasor measurement units that provide synchronised measurements of power system parameters at sub-second rate. It uses GPS to provide globally synchronised measurements.


As utilities continue to embrace new technologies and invest in advanced communication systems, there are certain challenges that need to be dealt with. The biggest challenge is to identify a suitable technology for enhancing the communication system. This differs from utility to utility. Further, with the digitalisation of systems, a threat looming over utilities is that of cybersecurity. This calls for incorporating cybersecurity plans in the current IT framework. Another issue is the short-lived nature of technologies, which necessitates their upgradation at regular intervals. Utilities need to address these issues at hand in order to make optimal use of the existing communication networks.

Based on a presentation by Rajesh Gupta, Superintending Engineer, MPPTCL, at a recent conference organised by the India Infrastructure Group



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