5G is coming ‒ and this is what we will get

What does 5G bring to industry or power grids?

The 5G mobile technology will bring new capabilities to multiple industries. Many of you will have heard about this or even experienced this already. My personal experience: I can now watch high-definition video while travelling in a metro or join a Skype conference call with video from a train or an airport. Like so many leaps in technology, the first thought is: “Why do we need it? What is it going to change?” A decade ago, I managed my mobile communication needs with just one mobile subscription. Now, that has changed considerably: Two mobile phones, several tablets, maybe a subscription for the car and another one for the home security system — the number of subscriptions just adds up. And as the number of devices climbs so does the requirement for capacity. 5G brings more than any other wireless communication standard, which means everything will work more smoothly to make everyday life easier.

Now let`s look into the possible impact an increase in capacity, combined with high reliability and short latency could have on industries and power grids. Predictive operations in manufacturing processes with input delivered by new standalone sensors, which could be retrofitted to the system with minimum effort would certainly be beneficial. The integration of fluctuating renewable energies into power grids needs real-time communication and control. Well, the digital transformation, driving the fourth industrial and energy revolutions are key vertical drivers for the 5G ecosystem.

Better reliability, more capacity – future evolving ecosystem

Today, a new cellular technology has been standardized and frozen for release by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP). The latest release REL-15 includes the first revision of the most interesting technology and service introduced in a while: ultra-reliable low-latency communication (URLLC). This technology is specified to provide 99.999 percent reliability and millisecond level latency. Quite impressive! And URLLC will be further improved in subsequent releases. 5G development addresses KPIs such as availability, jitter, capacity, density of devices, energy efficiency and location accuracy, to name a few. These parameters are also important for many industrial applications including discrete and process automation, power distribution and autonomous systems.

Besides better performance to meet our future needs, there are other good reasons to adopt 5G in industrial environments. One example is that old copper wire connections need to be renewed when wiring ages or when old wiring does not support enough capacity for modern communication solutions. These can then be replaced with fiber or with 5G to provide the final few meters or kilometers of high-speed connectivity. 5G wireless communication networks could be used to cover small geographical areas, for example, covering a substation building and its surrounding infrastructure. Today, communication within this environment can be built wirelessly, but integrating protection communications into the same might not be viable. Here 5G could also help since all required technical elements are available. 5G with low latency and high reliability could also provide a cost-effective method of creating redundancy to fixed communication links.

Real time data ‒ wirelessly

Smart Grid solutions are evolving to cope with the high penetration of distributed energy resources (DER) like solar, wind, energy storage, etc., with interactive load management functionalities that require modern communication technologies for real time control and protection applications. Why? Because the origin of energy production at a given moment may vary depending on the weather conditions. This means that overall power distribution systems must be more networked and dynamic, so that the availability and quality of electricity can be secured. For example, there is a need for a line differential protection principle on lower level distribution systems with DER, and the cost of the communication link is falling as the facility becomes more common. We already demonstrated in the collaborative research project with Nokia and Kalmar that 5G URLLC will provide the required performance for line differential protection. Also, we will see more control and protection schemes over voltage boundaries like IEDs in substations interacting with secondary substation devices or even residential solar inverters.

In future software driven systems with artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities are taking on an even more important role. This subject is connected to 5G as all the additional data generated will have to be sent to data centers for analysis, bringing further value to industrial and utility solutions. The 5G ecosystem provides an ideal infrastructure for edge computing and to filter the data for cloud applications. Our digital world is more dependent on electricity than ever and we need to ensure the power distribution system is capable of meeting the electricity demands of an increasingly complex world. Introduction of AI at different levels of an ICT infrastructure will help future operations to move towards better forecasting and real-time control with market integration. This is how we might ensure the reliability and availability of electricity in the energy system at an acceptable cost.

A lot of integration possibilities

As always, no new system comes without its challenges. Some topics, such as spectrum management and required bandwidth reserved for critical applications, must be considered, which is exactly what the German telecoms regulator does. The regulator will ensure that spectrum is made available for local 5G industry services to build private local networks. It remains to be seen how network slicing for URLLC service will be available and implemented for utility applications, where the operating area is considerably wider.

Another major concern is cybersecurity: how vulnerable is the system to new threats. These are aspects we take seriously in industrial and utility applications and some good practices can be deployed when connectivity is wireless. Nevertheless, there are new services outside the control of a sub-system or solution provider, which means the overall architecture of the entire solution must be designed and allowed to evolve to accommodate new requirements for future 3GPP releases.

Going forward we should further innovate and collaborate to find the best business models for all stakeholders to build the network that will work for all. 5G is an enabling technology, which will evolve along with industrial and utility applications that are using it, such as ABB Ability™ Predictive Maintenance. We are on the edge of having 5G, but in the next ten years or possibly less, we will see a new generation of wireless communication with even more capacity and futuristic services.

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About the author

Petri Hovila

Petri Hovila is working as a senior principal engineer and is responsible for distribution automation research program. He is also coordinating intellectual property matters for ABB’s Electrification Distribution Solutions business line. He has authored or co-authored a number of conference papers and is co-inventor in several patent applications.
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