For decades, major utility investments in new technology went to the transmission end of the electric grid — where high voltages, long wires and high stakes for system reliability made smart solutions an imperative. This left the distribution grid looking like the less intelligent, more ignored sibling.
But the rise of intermittent renewable energy, distributed energy resources (DERs), electric vehicles and buildings requires that the distribution grid must operate with the same intelligence as the more mature macro grid.
Without built-in smart technologies and communication capabilities, grid operators have little visibility into what is happening on their distribution grids. Unlike a cellular network operator, which has full knowledge of the exchange between every tower and cell phone, grid operators, in many cases, still rely on customers to inform them of a power outage. That’s not a recipe for customer satisfaction, reliable service or operational efficiency.
Utilities are aware of this limitation, and they’re not standing still. That’s why there’s been a push for the evolution of distribution grid-compatible communications technologies that can provide grid operators the ability to quickly see, respond to and fix problems. Just a few of the issues wireless communication solutions now allow utilities to see on a much larger scale include:
- Power line leakage.
- Electricity theft.
- Out-of-service smart meters.
- Equipment failures.
- Data collection on aging equipment to predict if and when it should be replaced.
These observations increase operational efficiency and boost a utility’s bottom line. The insights collected enable a more efficient business, but also a more efficient distribution grid delivering superior service to customers.
In a sea of communications solutions, why does Hitachi Energy rise to the top?
To make the transition to a smart distribution grid, the hundreds of thousands of devices located in these dense grids need to be able to communicate with each other and grid operators — essentially becoming an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) on a massive scale. Hitachi Energy introduced its 4G TRO600 portfolio in 2021, followed by a 5G-enabled TRO620 router in early 2022 as the wireless communication solution specifically designed for the needs of critical applications in the smart distribution grid of the future. In 2023, the TRO600 series is further enhanced with NB-IoT and Cat-M offerings, allowing large scale rollouts for less critical applications.
With a specific focus on solving distribution grid needs, the TRO600 series has five primary advantages over the alternatives:
- The TRO620 router provides a truly mission-critical grade communications capability by providing triple backhaul technology redundancy and huge capacity. By combining 5G with fiber and broadband mesh, distribution grid operators can use both public and private infrastructure for critical and high-capacity applications. The TRO620 can collect data from serial, ethernet and Wi-Fi clients.
- The TRO610 router integrates devices on a utility’s distribution grid into one seamless communications network. Many of these devices can last decades, and utilities shouldn’t have to rip and replace perfectly good equipment. For that reason, the TRO610 provides connectivity for a hybrid network of low-power cellular technologies or Bluetooth-based technologies. It can serve existing and future devices on the distribution grid as utilities seek to advance distribution automation efforts.
- With the TRO610, Hitachi Energy right-sized their devices for the communications functions the distribution grid needs to perform at mass scale. With hundreds of thousands of devices on the typical distribution grid that need to communicate, utilities can’t afford costly wireless technologies with excess features that deliver unneeded capabilities. Hitachi Energy’s solution enables machine-to-machine communications that are extremely powerful and data efficient at a lower cost.
- The TRO600 series routers are born industrial grade. The grid is a fierce environment where fires and sparks are not uncommon. Some vendors try to adapt technologies built for carpeted operating environments to be more rugged, but Hitachi Energy has roots as a high-voltage transmission grid solutions provider. Every device is designed for harsh environments so that they don’t cause a spark under any condition, don’t contribute to a problem from elsewhere and don’t stop working when damage does occur.
- For utilities that want flexibility, the TRO600 series has built-in, edge-compute capability. This intelligence at the grid edge allows utilities to go beyond the limitations of vendor technology and program custom instructions that allow them to learn more, be more proactive and react faster to grid edge events.
With its new TRO610 and the entire TRO600 line, Hitachi Energy has a range of wireless communication solutions that can enable utilities to see and respond to the dynamic environment that is the distribution grid.