Modern electric systems require advanced communications networks to enable many new applications. The National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NRTC) is partnering with Ericsson to design a model Private Long Term Evolution (PLTE) network for NRTC’s members. By supporting the new generation of smart applications and services, Ericsson’s PLTE network enables electric utility co-ops to maximize smart grid opportunities and improve grid efficiency, safety, security, and resilience.
Accelerating grid modernization with LTE
As older technologies are coming to end-of-life, electric cooperatives are struggling to meet the demands brought by transactional energy and the digitalization of the electric grid. Innovations like advanced metering, dynamic load control, intelligent switching, and distribution automation are helping NRTC’s members make the grid more efficient and resilient. This, in turn, makes electric service more reliable and less costly for the people and organizations that depend on it.
Joe Walsh, NRTC’s Vice President of Smart Grid Advisory and Networks, says, “Our goal is to help our members implement technology to address changing grid dynamics. That requires a modern standards-based communications network such as PLTE.”
Ericsson helped NRTC develop a templated PLTE network that will be the backbone for advanced digital services provided by NRTC to its members. “The Ericsson team came to us with a strong technical roadmap, but just as important they showed a deep understanding of the utility industry and cooperatives in particular,” Walsh stated.
Koustuv Ghoshal, Vice President and Head of the Utilities and Energy business for Ericsson North America, underscores the importance of this partnership: “We know that changing demands on the electric grid are complex issues—especially for rural utility providers—and can be difficult to tackle alone. We believe that partnership sparks creative solutions to reach the farthest ends of grid connectivity. Especially with NRTC, we want to be that partner for the electric co-op members.”
Proving the value of PLTE for smart grid use cases
The PLTE network developed for NRTC uses Ericsson’s radio, core, and network management technologies to provide a platform for advanced bi-directional grid communications. NRTC’s members will be able to customize and deploy the network to achieve the secure, long-range wireless connectivity necessary to enable smart grid use cases.
To prove the value of the PLTE network, NRTC engaged one of its member cooperatives—West Kentucky Rural Electric Cooperative Corporation (WKRECC)—in a successful trial with Ericsson. WKRECC deployed a PLTE network based on the model network, customized for WKRECC’s specific needs.
With a sparsely populated service area across a wide geographic region in western Kentucky, running fiber was not economically feasible for WKRCC. Therefore, a 4G LTE wireless network presented an ideal solution to connect more devices and enable more advanced network services. In the trial, the PLTE network delivered dramatic performance improvements for WKRECC’s supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems.
SCADA grid application testing during the trial showed the PLTE network achieved field throughput of 13 Mbps download and 5 Mbps upload in 3 MHz bandwidth for Band-8C 900 MHz cell carriers. The network delivered these results with a latency of just 80 milliseconds (less than 5 cycles at 60 Hz) round trip between the WKRECC radio access network in Kentucky and remote Ericsson core servers in Texas.
The capacity of PLTE allows a greater number of data points to be collected from these SCADA applications. WKRECC obtains more precise operational insights from the electric grid, enabling engineers and field crews to respond faster to outages and accelerate recovery times.
Justin McCann, P.E., WKRECC’s Vice President of Engineering, explains, “Our communication network was a hodgepodge of special-purpose systems, each independently operated and maintained. With PLTE, we’ll have a network that will support multiple smart grid systems for a fraction of what it would cost to expand just one system. We’ll have better performance monitoring. We’ll be able to do distribution automation, which will improve reliability and resilience, and enable automatic fault location to accelerate response time when there are outages.”
Far-reaching impact across western Kentucky and beyond
While the trial focused on SCADA, PLTE is capable of carrying multiple applications on one standardized network, with security designed in. This opens a wide range of possible use cases such as mission-critical push-to-talk, a more advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) and highly precise geospatial information systems (GIS), among others.
The benefits could extend beyond the utilities themselves. McCann suggests that they could provide first responders with their own secure, resilient LTE network for mobile communications. Schools could use the network to give students high-speed broadband access. Finally, the agricultural community will be able to make use of the reliable wireless connectivity to improve farm production and sustainability.
Ericsson’s Ghoshal highlights Ericsson’s commitment to utilities and the communities they serve: “Ericsson’s innovations in cellular technology have not only enabled utilities to reach their full potential, but our dedicated teams of technology experts take pride in helping utilities further harden their grid infrastructure and increase grid safety and reliability to continue to serve their communities. As the capabilities of the current LTE network evolve in the future to 5G, what better gift can we give to our families and communities than that of opportunity? I am proud that Ericsson is working with NRTC and WKRECC to demonstrate the impact of PLTE networks.”
To read the complete case study of the NRTC-Ericsson partnership and WKRECC trial, visit https://www.ericsson.com/en/cases/2023/nrtc-and-ericsson.