Satellite communication could be the key to building green, high-performance grids in the future. In fact, 60% of utility companies already rely on satellite communication and another 22% plan on adopting the technology soon.
The technology is uniquely suited to the needs of utility companies that have to monitor and maintain vast infrastructures.
Modern utility grid
Utility grids of the past relied completely on local production, delivery and monitoring, but the modern grid is an interconnected network of facilities in constant communication with each other. Here are technological components that make that feat of engineering possible:
- The internet of things (IoT) is composed of important data used to foster efficient operations, so utility companies are increasing their investments in IoT technology. The energy sector, for instance, expects an annual growth rate of 15% for smart-meter installations through 2020.
- Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) is a technology that uses IoT sensors to monitor and analyze data. The data is then distributed, locally or across a network, and displayed for operators. They can then make informed decisions based on real-time data computations. The sector is growing at an astounding rate and is predicted to be a more than $41 billion industry by 2023.
- Machine-to-machine technology is a broad concept describing when sensors and actuating devices communicate with each other. It’s related to IoT and SCADA, since without the ability for the machines to communicate, gathering and parsing the mass amounts of data would be impossible. Unsurprisingly, the field also is experiencing a boom, with experts predicting industry growth to $200 billion by 2020.
Those components are used now by utility companies to build a connected infrastructure. The continental United States features three mega-grids that make up the entirety of the country’s electrical capacity. They cover the East, the West and most of Texas. Without the ability for smaller grids to communicate and share data, that would not be possible.
Satellite communication plays a crucial role in introducing automation to a grid. The technology allows two or more elements of a grid to share data and perform automated actions based on information or alerts from another point of the grid. There’re many benefits to using satellite-based data transfer rather than other forms of connectivity. They include:
- Independent data-collecting stations. Through the connectivity of satellite communication, stations can be created that don’t require much human oversight. Information can be integrated from many sources at various locations and deciphered so that decisions can be automated. An interesting application of it is the use of industrial-grade weather sensors that help utility companies make crucial energy-output decisions.
- Comprehensive data collection. All resources within a grid can be monitored and used as efficiently as possible. When all points on a grid are connected and communicating, real-time alerts can be received when unusual events occur. That leads to more awareness for managers so potential issues can be dealt with as soon as possible.
- Scalable solutions. Satellite is a scalable technology that offers an opportunity for growth even in remote areas. Unlike cellular options, satellite offers exceptional performance in inaccessible parts of the country and doesn’t have to be in close proximity to a particular infrastructure such as a cell tower. That means fewer compromises and more options for a company wanting to expand its capabilities. As new components and stations are added to the grid, they can easily be connected to existing SCADA and M2M networks.
- Dedicated bandwidth. X2nSat provides communications solutions with dedicated bandwidth. It never has to compete with shared cellular or wired network resources. Customers receive ample bandwidth that’s dedicated to them. The result is more stability and less downtime.
- More environmentally friendly. Satellite communication that connects machines in the utility industry means less power waste. It’s estimated that 66% of electricity and 58% of all energy produced is wasted. That enormous number can be reduced if power grids are smarter and connected. Energy demand can be more accurately predicted, and real-time data can be analyzed and acted on quickly. That leads to a greener, more-efficient grid.
- Stronger recovery plans. Utility companies are able to be more reactive to potential risks when incorporating satellite solutions. Things such as automated alerts, crucial data-gathering in disaster scenarios and continued contact with the grid when other communications are interrupted means less overall downtime. Issues can be diagnosed and recovery plans can be enacted quickly.
Common mythsAs satellite technology has expanded, it has attracted a few myths along the way:
- Weather affects performance. Unlike consumer-grade products such as satellite television, commercial-grade satellite communications are not adversely affected by weather conditions. X2nSat solutions are used in some of the harshest climates in the world and even have the ability to circumvent frequent communication issues caused by natural disasters.
- Slow data transfer. Satellite is bridging the gap with terrestrial competitors in data rate and now boasts impressive high-speed capabilities. While the link delay between the satellite and Earth is still longer than what is typical in terrestrial options, the transmission cost of the data is constant regardless of distance. For competitors, transmission costs vary based on distance. That makes satellite a fantastic choice for sprawling, interconnected networks.
- Susceptible to cyberattacks. The same security protocols used in cellular networks are used in satellite communications. New encryption techniques are used to protect uplinks and downlinks. Work is being done every day to ensure that satellite communications are safe and secure. After all, the satellite is used to transfer extremely sensitive military and government information.