Future of satellite-enabled recloser monitoring and control

By Steven Tompkins
Steven Tompkins, Director of Sector Development at Inmarsat, highlights satellilte's connectivity benefits and reliability of its BGAN M2M service...

Satellite-enabled connectivity technologies are playing a pivotal role in accelerating digital transformation across the utilities sector, extending the reliability, efficiency and security of tomorrow’s smart grid. 

With today’s electricity providers under pressure to consistently improve service quality and minimise outages, reliable connectivity is absolutely vital. Satellite is an increasingly important tool - particularly for providers in remote areas - where it helps in eliminating cellular coverage dark spots and working as a highly reliable backup communications system when other connectivity networks fail.

Smart grid technologies are numerous, but they predominantly include centralised automated reclosers, advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) and substation automation. In this article, we consider the connectivity needs of one of the most important, recloser monitoring and control, alongside two instructive case studies of companies benefitting from the latest satellite technologies.

Enabling centralised recloser monitoring and control

Circuit reclosers are considered an essential device to maintain maximum continuity of service, with their ability to sense and interrupt currents in the event of a fault. Decentralised reclosers operate in isolation and are programmed to trip and reset without the need for connectivity networks, while centralised reclosers are connected to a central control room and allow much greater visibility and control over a grid.

While providers often use a variety of both types, the problems with decentralised reclosers are they are not “connected” and cannot be monitored or operated remotely, and once tripped they often transition to a lockout state, which means engineers need to travel to restore functionality, causing lengthy outages and costing the provider money. That’s why, with many providers operating over wide and remote geographies, smart grid management using centralised reclosers and SCADA is an increasingly desirable route. 

The challenge, however, is twofold. Firstly terrestrial connectivity may not be available at all in parts of an electricity distribution network, and secondly if it does exist it might be subject to blackouts or, if it is in a city it may be overloaded. So without satellite, electricity companies have either had to use decentralised reclosers with their various limitations or they have used centralised reclosers that don’t always work. Neither is an ideal scenario.

Case study 1: Ergon Energy, Australia

Ergon Energy maintains and manages the regional electric distribution network across Queensland, Australia. They provide energy for over 720,000 homes and businesses, covering 97% of the state.

Ergon Energy has installed hundreds of reclosers throughout their network, with a significant number operating in the most isolated parts of the state, areas in which traditional terrestrial and cellular connectivity methods are limited or not available. Therefore, they needed a single, ubiquitous, reliable network that was impervious to natural disasters and weather events, while providing a high level of security. 

Inmarsat’s BGAN M2M service met those requirements, providing a seamless, easy to integrate, real-time, IP-based connectivity service to remotely monitor, control and manage Ergon Energy’s recloser network. Click here to read more.

Case study 2: Cemig, Brazil

Cemig is the largest integrated electric power company in Brazil, with 83 power stations and participation in nearly 200 companies and consortia in 22 Brazilian states and the Federal District. One of the main problems that Cemig faces as an electric distribution company is in improving cellular connectivity performance in remote areas of Minas Gerais. 

OnixSat and Inmarsat developed a solution based on satellite connectivity to enable Cemig to increase availability and improve its remote controlling of reclosers. The solution connects the reclosers to Inmarsat’s L-band satellite network, in order to ensure the effectiveness of the commands issued to the reclosers by Cemig’s Center of Operations. 

The collaboration produced impressive results for Cemig. Before deploying the solution, Cemig had an effective availability of remotely controlling the reclosers in the remote recloser project of under 90%. After deployment of the solution this indicator now shows an average of 98%. Click here to read more.

Reliable and cost-effective satellite solutions

IP over satellite is demonstrably the most reliable and cost-effective option to remotely monitor and control centralised reclosers in areas where terrestrial connectivity is unreliable. Inmarsat’s BGAN M2M service is used on over 10,000 reclosers around the world and has been trusted as the industry standard by electricity providers for over a decade.

The BGAN M2M service operating on Inmarsat’s L-band network is the ideal satellite solution for recloser monitoring and control, as it provides up to 99.9% uptime in any continental location, aside from the far poles, even in adverse weather conditions, such as heavy rain, where other satellite services struggle.

The service features robust and compact terminals which are easy to install and can withstand hostile environmental conditions with a lifespan up to or exceeding ten years. With a low monthly data usage and long hardware lifespan the total cost of ownership for the service is minimal compared to the cost of dispatching technicians to resolve issues, with the benefit of achieving a higher continuity of service. 

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