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In their tests the engineers exploited the low latency times of 5G in time-critical applications in order to boost the reliability and efficiency of smart grids. According to the project partners WIVE (Wireless for Verticals) is one of the first real-life 5G applications for the automation of power grids and port infrastructure. The basis for this test scenario is URLLC (Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communication). URLLC has been identified as one of three 5G categories that will permit the reliable transmission of data in just a few milliseconds.

Eliminating serious malfunctions

In the near future power grids will face serious challenges. The German electrical industry association VDE predicts that the transformation of the energy market will lead to a rapid increase in grid components – both on the supply side and on the demand side. The problem is how to organize the safe and reliable operation of such a vast collection of plant and systems. At the same time the volume of data will increase – due to the monitoring of power consumption and feed-in and the communication between the numerous market players. The situation is similar in Finland. The management of power distribution grids involving an increasing number of distributed energy resources – coupled with the growing demand for flexibility – necessitates sophisticated technology for protection, control and monitoring.

5G URLLC technology represents a low-cost communication solution. “The project results are encouraging with regard to the future introduction of 5G in the power utility sector”, explains Petri Hovila, Program Manager at ABB. The Finnish project aims to implement 5G for the protection of medium-voltage distribution grids in order to achieve supply reliability. It is essential that serious malfunctions are rectified immediately. This is necessary in order to maintain grid operations, safeguard personnel and avoid damage to technical devices. The study confirmed that 5G/URLLC fulfils the relevant latency requirements.

What are the future perspectives? Thanks to 5G, operators of smart grids will have access to real-time information about supply and demand and can then make the relevant decisions. This is the declared goal of “National 5G Energy Hub”, a project involving Dresden Technical University, RWTH Aachen, Ericsson, Techem, E.ON and Deutsche Telekom. The first step will be to develop software and hardware which facilitate communication between energy-related applications and higher-level system components. Such a new toolbox will provide all users with secured communication access to energy plant and applications. Public institutions and private enterprises will therefore be in a position to offer new products and services immediately after the launch of the 5G standard in 2020.

High level of stability

In combination with scalable cloud applications 5G technology will create the basis for determining and coordinating local/regional demand for electricity and thermal energy. According to the researchers this will promote the utilization of volatile renewables and the dynamic allocation of generation and storage systems, which will have a positive impact on stability and capacity utilization. Further potential applications of this new communication platform include automatic monitoring and predictive maintenance. The project is divided into three phases. Starting this year and extending until early 2020, the first phase of the project will centre on basic technology and software components for the deployment of 5G technology in the energy sector. The second phase (2020–2024) will focus on transferring 5G to products and services. The efforts of SMEs in this area will receive special support.

In the field trial phase (2025–2028) priority will be given to advanced applications designed to accomplish the transformation in the energy sector. But back to Finland: “Aalto University has evaluated the potential of 5G technology in smart grids. Special emphasis was placed on protection, fault localization and so-called “packet core performance”. We are very impressed by the economic potential of 5G technology within the industrial Internet. In this context low latency times and reliable communication are decisive factors in safety, automation, the remote control of mobile machinery, as well as the decentralized generation and storage of green power”, reports Raimo Kantola, Professor at Aalto University, Department of Communications and Networking. Co-financed by Business Finland, the WIVE project involves numerous industrial and academic research partners – for example, Nokia, Teleste, Telia, ABB, Kalmar, the Finnish broadcaster YLE, Digita, the regulatory authority FICORA, major Finnish universities and the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland