Ethernet enables the smart grid

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The electrical power generation, transmission and distribution system has survived for decades with limited intelligence. But the emergence of independent power producers, green power sources and new regulatory regimes is making it imperative to add smarts to the grid. The grid receives power from a variety of conventional and green power sources. The grid then distributes this power to industrial, commercial and residential consumers. Power flowing into the grid must be matched with power outflows as closely as possible on a real-time continuous basis.

When power inflows and outflows don't match, voltage fluctuations occur on the grid. Excess demand lowers voltages, eventually to problematic levels. Power storage can address part of the problem by temporarily boosting power supplied to the grid, but storage is both technically challenging and very expensive. A better approach is to match power flowing into and out of the grid based on real-time information and control systems.

These real-time information and systems necessarily rely on wired and wireless communication networks, and the de facto standard for these networks is Ethernet. Various Ethernet protocols and attendant hardware including switches, routers and connectors form the power grid communication backbone.

This white paper will first show how the electric utility landscape has changed over the past few decades, necessitating the smart grid. It will then be shown how Ethernet-based Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems can be used to monitor and control power flowing into and out of the grid. Finally, it will be shown how Ethernet-based SCADA systems can be used to match power inflows and outflows to keep the grid stable.

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