Communications networks will be the key to adding digital intelligence to the power grid and ultimately help the U.S. reduce its electricity consumption. That’s why the government is setting aside billions of dollars in stimulus funds that will help utilities develop smart grid networks. But that also means that utilities have some very big decisions to make when it comes to what kind of network technology they will use, and whether they will build out their own networks or design a system around already available networks. Here’s a look at the details and the pros and cons of some of the network options that utilities have, including RF Mesh, cellular, metro Wi-Fi, WiMAX, and broadband over power lines, courtesy of Pike Research analyst Clint Wheelock.
|RF Mesh: Bit rate up to 1 Mbps, variable range, variable frequency||Smart meters, distribution automation||Able to be customized for specific deployments, self-organizing, self-healing||Proprietary, lack economies of scale, equipment can be expensive|
|Cellular: Bit rate at 20-800 kbps, 1-2 mile typical range, frequency 700 MHz to 2.1 GHz||Smart meters (AMI), mobile work force management||Able to leverage existing networks, low upfront capital investment, short time-to-market, low module cost||Recurring cost per megabyte, lack of direct utility control over network|
|Broadband Over Power Lines (BPL): Bit rate at 256 kbps to 10 Mbps, variable range, frequency at 1.6 to 80 MHz electric carrier||Substations, smart meters, monitoring/ control at customer premise, distribution automation||Robust capabilities, integrated communications throughout grid and home area network environments, low recurring costs||High capital costs, expensive chips and equipment, not widely adopted|
|WiMAX: Bit rate up to 3 Mbps, range of 1-2 miles, frequency 2.3-3.5 GHz||Smart meters, mobile work force management, distribution automation||High bandwidth capabilities, low latency||Not widely deployed, not yet proven for smart grid deployments, high equipment cost|
|Metro Wi-Fi: Bit rate 1-5 Mbps, typical range up to ½ mile, frequency between 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz||Smart meters, mobile work force management, distribution automation||Low-cost equipment, mesh topology is well-suited for smart grid needs, low latency||Not widely deployed, not yet proven for smart grid deployments|