Smart Grid

November 19, 2012

Satellite-Based Communications Nodes Could Hasten Utility Disaster Response

As Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on the East Coast this month, desperate utility customers—left without lights, heat and electronics for weeks—bitterly complained that there should be a better way to transmit power, monitor system faults, and make repairs to the energy infrastructure.

According to a new report released by Boulder, Colorado-based Pike Research (News - Alert), as a non-terrestrial-based network, satellite communications may be the only solution to keep the grid connected or bring it back online rapidly in cases of natural (or manmade) disasters.  In addition, satellite communications can be used to bring smart grid functionality and all of its benefits to sparsely populated geographies.

Looking ahead, the analysts said, satellite appears to be well-positioned to play a growing role in the next-generation grid. In fact, while satellite will undoubtedly remain a relatively small element of the overall smart grid picture worldwide, Pike Research estimates that the global revenue generated by both equipment and services will amount to a total of nearly $2.1 billion cumulatively between 2012 and 2020.

As the smart grid market matures, applications like substation automation, distribution automation, advanced metering infrastructure backhaul, network redundancy, remote monitoring, and mobile workforce applications all are gaining increased attention from utility managers looking to wring more costs out of their business models. Whereas alternative communications options are generally more practical and cost-effective for home area network and neighborhood area network smart grid applications, in the situations mentioned above, satellite communications is increasingly viable and, at times, the only alternative.

Shipments of satellite-based communications nodes for smart grid applications will more than quadruple by 2020, the study concludes, growing from 11,500 in 2012 to nearly 48,000 in 2020, according to the study. Regionally, North America and Asia Pacific are expected to show the largest unit volume and revenue from sales of satellite-based smart grid equipment through 2020; over the longer term, Pike Research believes that emerging markets in Latin America, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East and Africa will provide further growth for satellite communications in smart grid applications.

The use of satellite communications in the smart grid is forecast to fall into three principal wide area networking (WAN) applications:

  • Connectivity of transmission and distribution substations,
  • Networking of intelligent devices used for automation of the power distribution network, and
  • Backhaul communications for advanced metering infrastructure concentration points.

Of these, Pike Research sees the growth of distribution automation node deployments as the largest global opportunity.

What’s more, satellite communications will play a key enabling role in not only the expansion of the smart grid but also the spread of renewable distributed generation facilities, according to the report, “Satellite Communications for Smart Grid Applications.” Integrating the growing number of wind and solar microgrid sites into utilities’ overall communications networks often means reaching remote, rural areas. Satellite communications’ ubiquitous coverage and relatively low equipment costs allow utilities to attach these sites to their communications network quickly and inexpensively.

Pike Research’s report, examines the economics and dynamics of satellite communications as it relates to smart grid deployments.

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Edited by Brooke Neuman