smart metering capabilities over the existing power grid, but also upgrades the infrastructure to be more flexible and future-proof

The climate and energy package is a set of binding European legislation which aims to ensure the European Union meets its ambitious climate and energy targets for 2020: 20% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (compared to 1990), 20% of energy consumption produced from renewable resources and a 20% improvement in the overall energy efficiency. Part of this ambitious goal, all the energy distribution companies are required to install smart meters in 80% of homes by 2020.

Electrica SA, the Romanian power supply and distribution company, together with its partners, Ormazabal and Flashnet, have implemented a smart grid pilot project in Brasov, Romania. The initiative offers smart metering capabilities over the existing power grid, but also upgrades the infrastructure to be more flexible and future-proof, thus making it capable of meeting EU targets for the following decade.

Based on Ormazabal technology and Flashnet’s system integration abilities, Electrica is the first power company in Eastern Europe to prove that the PRIME (Powerline Intelligent Metering Evolution) standard can be a reliable and cost effective solution for smart grid development. The unified architecture provides reliable communication and control throughout the grid, thus offering to the power supplier full awareness of its customers and assets, while acquiring better grid intelligence through smart metering and sensing.


The Partners

Electrica SA. One of the largest power suppliers in Romania, Electrica SA delivers electricity and power services to more than 3.5 million customers countrywide: from residential consumers and small companies to large industrial corporations.

Ormazabal. A provider of distribution smart grid solutions, Ormazabal is a company that focuses on the development of the power sector to in order to sustain the increase of global energy needs. Ormazabal was selected as the vendor of choice based on its hardware experience with PRIME technology.

Flashnet. A hardware and software integrator, Flashnet creates and implements intelligent systems for smarter cities and better infrastructure. Flashnet was chosen as the preferred system integrator based on the previous successful telecommunication projects deployed with Romanian public administration.


The Pilot Program Details

In mid-2010, Electrica decided to undertake its first smart grid pilot program in Brasov, Romania. While the primary goal was to find a solution that would enable it to meet the European Union’s regulations calling for 80% of consumers to have smart meters in their homes by 2020, Electrica was interested in deploying a technology that went beyond metering. Ultimately the utility company wanted to improve its connectivity with customers and assets and gain “actionable intelligence” to improve the reliability of the grid.

The ultimate goal was to design a fully functioning smart grid system that would use medium voltage (MV) as a backhaul pipe, pulling voltage and current measurements to detect grid events on the low voltage (LV) lines and read meters using simple power line communications (PLC) networking technologies. Flashnet was able to leverage its experience in telecom by providing the backhaul communications and integrating the Ormazabal Smart Transformer Station (STS) solution within the network. The STS is a solution that gathers information from the grid and carries it between substations and ultimately back to a coordinating data center.

The first step in the process was to define the area where the pilot solution would be deployed – ideally an area that contained all the elements of a typical distribution network: several transformer stations were chosen, covering approximately 5,000 residential and industrial customers in Brasov.

Next came the planning phase, where the selected partners aimed to create an intelligent distribution transformer station, using the Ormazabal STS. The solution would use a communications system based on the PRIME standard for reading meters, an IP-based backbone communications system using MV broadband over power line (MV-BPL) network, and a comprehensive suite for sensing solutions to monitor grid information and events, as well as station monitoring for movement, humidity, temperature, smoke and flooding.

 Figure 1 – Schematic of Electrica’s MV connections


More About PRIME

PRIME is a standard-based, non-proprietary telecom solution that focuses on interoperable smart metering and also provides support for smart grids by using PLC to communicate even in complex power grids. Electrica and Flashnet chose PRIME because of the economics associated with its use and interoperability – it is the most affordable solution that uses existing infrastructure for PLC, thus being able to reach more homes with lower investments that any other smart grid communication solution on the market. Also, PRIME was already being used in Western Europe, which recommended it as a reliable functional solution.

So how does PRIME work? It defines PHY and MAC layers of a PLC narrowband data transmission system over the electric grid. The PRIME PHY layer is based on OFDM multiplexing in the CENELECA band and reaches up to 130 kbps raw data rate. The PRIME specification also includes a convergence layer for integration of available protocols with PRIME. The convergence sublayer is comprised of a common part and a service specific part. Common part sublayer supports generic power line specific adaptation functions such as segmentation and reassembly while the service specific part is defined for every protocol that needs to be integrated with PRIME.

For example, there is a service specific layer for integrating IPv4 protocols and another one for integrating IEC 61334-4-32. It is likewise possible to define a service specific layer for IPv6, and the forthcoming release of the specification is expected to cover this. Meters and data concentrators using PRIME are inherently interoperable at the communications layer while protocols like DLMS/COSEM define the data transfer methodology.


Electrica Smart Grid Design

When designing this solution, Ormazabal and Flashnet decided to take advantage of the existing MV connections between Electrica’s substations and deploy an IP-based BPL (Figure 1).

 Schematic of smart transformer station


Planning for Better Communications

The most critical events on the grid require immediate awareness and response. Consequently, Flashnet planned and implemented the communication network as an essential element to the smart grid deployment. To be most effective, the communication capability should provide a low latency link to the real time events being measured, such as system stability, equipment health, outages, faults, and demand response coordination and events. MV-BPL devices were installed in each of the designated substations, and are coupled onto the MV lines to establish a communications path with the devices located in the adjacent substations.

By using this architecture, Electrica didn’t need to overbuild a parallel communication network in order to connect the substations. By avoiding using other communication technologies, such as general packet radio service (GPRS), the power distribution company reduces the initial investment, but also reduces future recurring operational expenses.

Using this reliable and cost effective network connection between substations, the smart grid design continued with establishing a reliable central communications hub at one of the central stations. All traffic from each substation would be transported to this location, aggregated and sent to the data center. This central communications hub also reduced the costs for wide area network (WAN) connectivity – requiring just a single wireless link to the data center, instead of separate wireless links from each substation.

Electrica needed to gather data from the grid through the substation equipment in order to manage its assets, identify critical grid conditions and read individual meters. This is where the STS concept was further leveraged. An Ormazabal Communication and Connectivity Engine (CCE) was placed at the central communications hub, having two functional modules: the station data concentrator (SDC) and low voltage analytics (LVA) (Figure 2).

The SDC is located in the distribution transformer station and functions as the gateway to meters and other in-premise devices. It acts as the head-end of the PRIME PLC system on each low voltage secondary, and also manages the higher layer advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) functions for each connected meter, including meter data collection, control and configuration. The SDC utilizes the PRIME communication technology to “talk” to PRIME modules located within the meters.

With the LVA modules integrated into the CCE product, the STS delivers comprehensive sensing of the low voltage grid. The LVA solution offers advanced metrology capabilities, providing current, voltage and power (real, reactive and apparent) measurements, as well as advanced power quality measurements, such as THD and harmonic analysis.

However, simply providing sensor data from a multitude of points can overwhelm a utility company’s ability to process and make sense of the information in order to improve the reliability of the distribution system. True awareness cannot be achieved by simply collecting sensor data. Instead, Electrica needs to be able to analyze the data and extract meaningful information from it. Through a combination of intelligent sensing solutions, edge based software analytics and data mining software capabilities, the STS solution allows analysis to be located both centrally and at the point of sensing, giving Electrica distributed control and automation of present and future network activity, such as reclosed operation, distributed generation control and demand response.


Next Steps

Electrica is planning to invest an additional €5-7 million in the next period, in order to install smart meters in all Brasov homes. The ultimate goal of this project is to extend this smart grid implementation to over one million of Electrica South Transylvania’s customers within the next 10 years.

Electrica’s smart grid deployment demonstrates how a European utility company can meet regulatory mandates in a cost effective way, while gaining more actionable, real time intelligence from the grid and improving its reliability. Pilot projects like this one are also important as proof points to the viability and opportunity of smart grid deployments in the Central and Eastern European (CEE) marketplace.

Aside from clear government legislation that mandates better grid operations and incorporation of new technologies, the addition of renewable energy sources will create grid stability issues that will need to be managed on a real time basis. There will be a sharp increase in power supply and demand, as well as the demand for smart grid infrastructure solutions. As noted by Frost & Sullivan in its report “Smart Meters Market: Electricity Demand Forecasts for CEE through 2017”, “…rising electricity demand in CEE regions has exceeded grid capacities. The grids’ modernization is limited in CEE countries and energy losses are high especially in countries such as Estonia and Romania (up to 10%). Utilities are looking at how to manage the grid properly and reduce electricity consumption among end-users.”

While more work needs to be completed before benefiting from a fully upgraded grid, the CEE market is clearly prepared for growth. By investing in a unified solution that incorporates PRIME technology, leveraging existing MV power lines for communications, and recognizing the need for edge-based actionable intelligence gained through sensing, utilities will be able to deploy cost effective solutions that improve reliability and connectivity and make smart grids a reality in the European markets.