Making Smart Grid more Smart With 5G Communication

Written by Indranil Ghosh

Energy industry is an inevitable index of our society. The world's primary energy consumption grew by 45% over last 20 years and expected to grow by 39% over next 20 years. There exists strong correlation between energy consumption and economic wellbeing of world economy translating towards significant business outlook. In conventional grid, to match the dynamic demand-supply of electricity, we require more electrical grids, which is a kind of engineering marvel, an interconnected network of transmission lines, substations, transformers, and more essential components. The electrical grid delivers electricity from producers to consumers. To make legacy grid smart, we need a) two-way communication to make reaction time fast and b) digitally equipped system to make the process more efficient, which makes the Grid Smart. Prerequisites of two-way communication are transmission-bandwidths, latency, availability, reliability, connection density or scalability, the distance of wide-area coverage. These communication entities are essential in modern Smart Grid where power flow and generation are from diverse sources, where the operational parameters of the field devices are and can be measured, monitored, determined, adjusted, and controlled automatically and remotely. There are numerous scattered nodes present in smart-grid where the enormous amount of data and information flow. Hence to monitor and supervise these entities, wireline (Fiber-optic Communication, Broadband Power Line Communication) and wireless communication techniques like 2G (GSM), 3G (WCDMA), 4G (LTE) generally been used in smart grids. To enable more systematic communication with better reaction time and greater flexibility, 5G wireless communication technology is the ultimate communication toolbox to make “Smart-Grid” smarter.

What is 5G:

5G means a 5th-Generation cellular network which enables society, business, and people in the new era of connectivity. It enables new use cases for any industry over any suitable network. If we look back at the wireless communication industry, these are the application of various wireless generations: 1G for voice calls and analog purposes, 2G for mobile Voice call and SMS, 3G for Mobile Web browsing, HSPA+(3.5G) for better throughput experience, 4G Mobile for video experience and higher data throughput, LTE-A (4.5G) for more capacity of course to quench the thirst of more throughput. Like any communication network, it is also divided into radio, transport and core network. 5G radio access network is called NR (New radio) where User equipment connects to whereas antenna can be installed in feasible physical location for radio wave propagation and Core Network is called NGCN (Next generation Core Network) which is the central part of for switching to connect the call to intended destination. Transport network connects Radio Access network and Core network. Different standard organization like METIS, 3GPP, NGMN, IMT-2020 defines target performance values for 5G in terms of Latency (<1ms), Data Traffic, peak Data Rate (20Gbps-DL,10Gbps-UL), Peak Spectral Efficiency (30bps/HZ DL,15bps/HZ UL), Connection Density (1 million connections/km2), and mobility (500 kmph).  5G has several advantages with respect to other technologies, which includes speed, capacity, number of devices, processing capacity for edge-computing, energy efficiency, and better virtualization using network slicing. There are two options for 5G network deployment. First one utilizes existing 4G (LTE) Network for control plane operation and 5G network for user plane, which is called 5G NSA (Non Standalone Access), and the other option is a dedicated 5G Network for control and user plane connected to Next generation 5G Core which is 5G SA (Standalone).

Basic Role of 5G Communication in SG:

Energy industry is already in spur to innovation for smart grid, but the real challenge is deployment of tight, secure, flexible communication network where energy management system leverage the sensors, access nodes, actuators, and subsystems. The communication network not only helps to monitor and control SG entities but also extends participation of new flexible services. If we consider life cycle management of power grid, it comprises power generation, transmission, transformation, distribution, and consumption. For consumer network purpose like smart meter, the distributed network deployment and wide coverage gain is a real challenge and the last mile coverage assurance is also necessary to prevent blackout and enable self-healing capability of smart-grid. Intelligent distributed feeder automation, load control, power system protection, information management for low-voltage distribution, DR signals from utility centers to smart meters are the applications which require different bandwidth for uplink-downlink, different latency, sometimes high connection density in smart grid communication network. 5G at ease meets those requirements for different communication in a single physical network. 5G integrated access backhaul approach can also help to reduce cost by replacing optical fiber.

Predictive maintenance of different components of power-grid like electrical isolators, transmission lines along electricity grids, LNG/GAS storages or proactive recovery in emergency situations or surveillance during natural calamity, and real-time video surveillance are key important application of 5G in smart grid operation. Besides, one of the biggest advantage 5G can render is reliability which is 99.9999%. For machine-to-machine type communication specially for smart-metering deployment, a sensible solution is the plug-play approach (PoE-Power over Ethernet), which reduces the operational cost. Edge-computing and Virtual Network Functions using 5G makes this communication system easily scalable in terms of auto-configuration. For Distributed energy storage and resource management, VNF becomes ideal solution and 5G makes it really easy. Any Energy company can also build their own Private 5G network ensuring security, varied latency, data delivery criticality based on applications, reliability for exchange of messages and scalability with integration of advanced application layers using reliable protocols.

Smart-Grid Communication Architecture:

For Smart grid Architecture conceptually, there are three building block a) Energy Layer b) Communication Layer, and c) Virtual Network Function Layer and Application layer. These layers can communicate with each other using open API (Application programming interface)

5G Network Slicing:

Communication Service providers (CSP) are leveraging network slicing and service exposure, which is 38% across industry segments for Energy and Utility sector. If any energy operator utilizes its smart-grid network for multi-faceted purpose with different requirements and various service level agreements, this becomes a new business service opportunity. They can lease their network to other energy organization based on geographical area or regulation. This will become feasible by help of “Network Slicing” as “Flexibility” is one of the core features of 5G, hence 5G Network Slicing. Network Slicing is the novel concept to transform a set of logical networks on top of a shared common physical infrastructure. Each logical network can serve different use case requirements considering all network resources. It can be used for service isolation, customization of network functions, virtualization, independent management, dynamic orchestration. Network Slicing enables Energy operators to maximize their return of investment by efficient utilization of network resources. Within network slicing concept, the Orchestration enables fast service provisioning of different network function through imbibing automation in every step, which redefines customization and flexibility in a great way.

5G network slicing is exactly fit for Smart Grid use cases. In fine, Network slicing is the most economical way of achieving service scalability, which can be summarized as follows. “Network Slicing = Dedicated Functional Layer + Shared Physical Resources = Exponential Economic benefit + Rapid Return on Investment (ROI) + Service scalability”

5G Network - Slicing in Smart-Grid:

There are various use cases already tested and deployed in collaboration with different Energy organizations, Communication service providers, and 5G standardized consortiums across the globe. Here are some use cases examples:

  1. Fully decentralized self-healing scheme based on device-to-device communication. Deployment of the large amount of smart meters using Plug-n-play easy model and VNF (Virtual Network Function) based energy monitoring smart energy services.
  2. 5G Network Slicing is an economical and efficient wireless solution compared with a traditional fiber-based communication system. An integrated backhaul solution is an efficient solution for OPEX improvement.
  3. 5G Network Slicing could play an important part in identifying the fault location and fault isolation using intelligent distributed feeder automation.
  4. Information acquirement of low voltage distribution system in real-time or quasi-real-time.
  5. Drone-based High bandwidth video surveillance methods help aerial predictive maintenance of utility infrastructure and analytical service definition in the utility control center and to extended Mobile edge computing (XMEC) entities.
  6. Millisecond-level precise load control and automatic Operation and maintenance in power-grid.
  7. Energy efficiency management and energy pricing strategy based on dynamic demand-supply.
  8. AR (Augmented Reality) / VR (Virtual Reality) / MR (Mixed Reality) solutions help field workforces in the power grid industry. If any crew or technician needs assistance to solve a critical technical issue in the field, remote expertise can be easily leveraged which shortens outage time.  
  9. Ensuring high availability and resilience by creating the infrastructure of dispatchable demand response service.

5G Standalone Network option for Network slicing deployment is the optimum choice because it provides space for very good latency with respect to 5G Non-Standalone option. This model helps efficient bidirectional communication of the huge data (Information and Communication Technology layer) from North Bound interface Power Grid towards south bound consumer or “Prosumer” networks. It is true example of highly smart CAPEX model of Smart-Grid network.

Carbon-footprint Reduction:

The electrical energy required to power legacy communication networks reflects overhead of Carbon emission, but because of the blessing of the lean and energy-efficient scheduler design of 5G, this network enables Smart Grid to lower carbon emission to make sustainable society.

Summary: 5G Communication packaged with URLLC, High Bandwidth, High Reliability, Network Slicing will help to make Smart-Grid smarter to render innovation, business scalability and sustainable green society.


This article edited by Mehdi Moghadasi

For a downloadable copy of the April 2021 eNewsletter which includes this article, please visit the IEEE Smart Grid Resource Center.

Ghosh enewsletter
Indranil Ghosh is a Senior Solution Architect, Technical Engineering, for Ericsson India Global Services Pvt Ltd. He has a B-Tech Electronics and Communication Engineer from the West Bengal University of Technology and 15+ years of experience in the Telecommunication industry (2G, 3G, 4G, 5G Technologies). Ghosh has diversified global work experiences in different segments of communication like radio network planning, design, optimization, troubleshooting, complex network strategy derivation, and suggesting MNO, MSO for better network performance and improvement areas. Has also has significant experience in different Private network deployments for energy corporations and innovation hubs using Private-LTE and 5G.

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