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Utilities look to RF mesh to address network optimization for power grid

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Utilities will rely heavily on RF mesh networks as a key communication technology, according to new research commissioned by Silver Spring Networks and conducted by Zpryme.

The research measured communication network priorities for next-generation distribution grid optimization for 350 utilities across the globe. The utilities surveyed noted that RF mesh networks offer flexibility to adapt to the changing needs of the electric network – through a focus on areas such as open standards and interoperability – and can help maintain compatibility for future needs.

The research also highlights the top five trends that were common amongst the surveyed utilities:

1. Utilities recognize that their communication networks must change to enable the next-generation distribution grid. Just 6 percent feel extremely ready with their current communication networks to support changes coming to the grid in the next 5 years.

2. Fiber optic and RF mesh lead the future of layered communication networks. 74 percent will use fiber optic, and 65 percent will use RF mesh in the next decade.

3. Utilities will use RF mesh to address a variety of use cases for field area networks. Top use cases include distribution automation, fault detection and AMI.

4. No matter the technology or the need, reliability remains a top priority for communications networks. 91 percent said reliability is a priority for communications networks, followed by cost (78 percent).

5. Cybersecurity is the most significant concern with legacy communication networks. 56 percent listed cybersecurity as one of the top 3 pain points for their utility.

Utilities are under enormous pressure to update their business and service model to incorporate more renewable sources, restore service faster after weather events, and meet higher customer expectations. The results from this survey show that utilities are aware of these challenges and are mindful of the steps they need to take to address these challenges and pressures.

“These results show us that utilities are looking ahead to proactively prepare for the future needs – including connecting distribution automation, renewable energy, smart grid and smart city assets – for improvement in service and reliability,” said Matt Smith, Senior Director of Grid Management, Silver Spring Networks. “Utilities that are adopting standards-based, secure, reliable and scalable network platforms, such as the solutions offered by Silver Spring Networks, can optimize their grid networks to meet future needs and scalability demands.”

“The landscape of communication networks is drastically evolving as utilities aim to improve service and sustainability,” said H. Christine Richards, Vice President of Research, Zpryme. “This research highlights what utilities are prioritizing as they look to future next-generation distribution grid, and how these priorities may evolve.”

Silver Spring has more than 26.7 million enabled devices delivered on five continents. Silver Spring works with some of the world’s leading utility companies on grid management programs including Baltimore Gas and Electric, ComEd, CPFL Energia, CPS Energy, Florida Power & Light Company (FPL), Pacific Gas & Electric, Pepco Holdings Inc., Sacramento Municipal Utility District and WEL Networks.

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