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A Rugged Remote Terminal Unit for the Smart Grid Market

remote terminal unit smart

Throughout recent months, as fires ravaged thousands of acres of California, the Northern California company PG&E was forced to make a terrible call to completely shut down power in many areas. They did so in order to lessen the impact of the fires, and almost certainly save lives, but it was hard on customers and at times, even deadly.

As an example, a man in Pollock Pines, just east of Placerville, died shortly after his power was turned off. He required oxygen and was no longer able to get it. While there hasn't been a 1:1 absolute link concerning the causation between the cutoff and his death, it's a terrible tragedy that everyone involved wishes could have been avoided.

Avoiding such tragedies is the promise of the RTU-powered smart grid.

The smart grid, which is developing from dream to reality, is an electrical grid that can make targeted slowdown, shutdown, or ramp up a decision, based on usage, need, and other factors. It can make instant decisions, and not get into situations like the one in California. But doing this requires a remote telemetry unit for the smart grid that actually works. RTUs have to be able to monitor vast amounts of information across the grid and send them to a master station that can make the right decisions.

That means that the RTUs have to be able to withstand whatever nature can throw at them - they must be rugged. As the smart grid is the way of the future, it's crucial to get it right. That means understanding what the smart grid is, finding the best remote terminal unit for the smart grid, and ensuring it will work effectively as a part of your SCADA system.

How a Smart Grid Will Save Electricity

There's an old story about how, every year, water utilities have to brace for halftime at the Super Bowl, because people who have been waiting will go to use the washroom. That most likely isn't true (there are more than enough commercial breaks and time between the commercials for non-football fans), but "surges" are a major problem for utilities.

There are many times when more people use more electricity. For instance, when it gets very hot, air conditioner use skyrockets. That can put a lot of pressure on a grid that is already taxed by the heat.

A smart grid can brace for this by automatically rerouting electricity from one less-used sector to another. It has a picture of the whole grid, and thus can intelligently - and instantly - allocate resources.

This is a way of saving electricity, in every meaning. Less electricity will be used in one sector, yes, but you are also saving the grid. As we saw in New York in previous years, one glitch can take away electricity from millions. That's why there needs to be a constant balancing.

Needless to say, though, it's more than just shuffling around electrons. It has to do so in a way that balances the needs of the entire system. And that's why RTUs are so important.

The Necessity of Remote Telemetry Units for the Smart Grid

We know that Remote Telemetry Units are vital for monitoring and controlling remote substations. That makes them crucial to the whole idea of the smart grid and as a control point of your SCADA system.

The right RTUs convey information about what is happening at each substation to a master system. This allows the master system to make immediate decisions about the grid. And this truly works.

A European utility has been working with low-voltage/medium voltage monitoring systems throughout its smart grid. The results speak for themselves.

In brief, the operation of Demo2 has shown a successful design of the technical solution in secondary substations, where defined fault cases are accurately identified by RTUs and have the potential to reduce SAIDI by up to 12%.

Warnings from both RTUs and smart meters are sent to the overlying SCADA system. These warnings are processed by the SCADA system, announced in SCADA alarm lists, and displayed in the DMS.

SAIDI stands for "system average interruption duration index." In other words, the use of RTUs keeps systems running up to 12% more. That's enormous.

How are RTUs Invaluable?

A few ways.

  • RTUs offer safety and security. RTU devices are designed to meet and exceed all the latest security standards, even for unmanned sites, making them much harder to attack or manipulate.
  • RTUs reduce human involvement. A smart system only requires human intervention in extreme scenarios. A remote terminal unit in the smart grid enables your people to be free to make other decisions, and implement controls over equipment faster.
  • RTUs can make automatic decisions. There will be times when expertise is absolutely required, but there are also many times when a snap decision can be made to save time (and ultimately money).

But this doesn't mean the system cuts people out. Indeed, the smart grid is all about people.

RTUs, Smart Devices, and the Human Element

Do you know who always needs power? Hospitals caring for patients and people on oxygen. And, stores that have to keep food at the right temperature. Also, laboratories.

Of course, the store doesn't need power in the paper goods section. And not every lab needs 24/7 power in every stairwell. That's the beauty of the smart grid and smart devices.

RTUs can communicate and get information from smart devices along the grid and allocate power as needed. The system can communicate with itself and turn off the lights in the paper goods aisle without spoiling the meat. We can reduce electricity without a blanket "on or off" over an area.

That's important for places like hospitals, which have to maintain power. The smart grid might have to shut things down or slow them down, but it's smart enough to do this where needed, thanks to RTUs. That is if the RTUs are rugged enough to keep working.

A Rugged RTU Combines Brawn and Brains for the Smart Grid

So far, this article has seemed very California-centric, but the smart grid is everywhere. It's for the mountain fastness of the Rockies and the Great Plains, the sun-baked fields of the Southwest, the bitter winters of the Great Lakes, and the storm-tossed Atlantic Coast. It's for heat and ice; for wind and calm.

That means a remote terminal unit for the smart grid market has to be rugged. RTUs and their attached sensors, as a part of your SCADA system, are literally the key to the whole project, which means you need ones that can:

  • Withstand most any conditions and temperatures
  • Continue working with little to no maintenance
  • Transmit even when conditions are challenging

Indeed, the whole point is to work in challenging conditions, which is why selecting the right RTU is the most important step in the smart grid. It has to be able to stand up to the elements. It has to be strong to be smart.

That's why, when developing a smart grid, it will be crucial to work with a partner who understands how tough RTUs need to be. You'll want to work with a team that understands what "remote" truly means and knows how to design, build, and install RTUs that function well for your SCADA system, even in the toughest conditions.

The smart grid is going to change the way we use power, and it's going to save lives. That has to start with RTUs, and that means choosing the right partner. It's the smart choice for your smart grid.

DPS Telecom has the experience and expertise to help companies monitor what matters most - including the smart grid. Our technicians can work with you to install rugged RTUs with easy-to-use interfaces for more automatic responses. Reach out and get a quote today!

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