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Get ready for more fiber in utility networks

By Max Burkhalter
July 5, 2013

The rise of solar power as an efficient, though intermittent, power source offers considerable potential for more sustainable energy delivery across the entire utility grid landscape. However, if you look closely at solar energy's potential, you'll notice that it also brings plenty of challenges along with the opportunity for better energy delivery and use patterns. The intermittent nature of solar power is among the greatest of these problems, as unpredictability in solar energy generation makes it difficult for utility providers to perform effective capacity planning.

Cabling Installation & Maintenance magazine reported that fiber-optic cabling systems deployed at utility solar arrays could prove integral in maximizing the renewable energy resource.

Understanding solar power challenges and how fiber helps
The problem with intermittent energy sources is that nobody has really figured out a great way to store large quantities of electricity for a long time. This means that power pretty muchhas to be used when it is generated or left to dissipate. For utility providers, depending on intermittent resources could mean using rolling blackouts or brownouts to deal with times when energy generation does not meet demands. Using solar in conjunction with other power generation sources can alleviate this issue, but renewable energy is still the ideal, meaning that utility providers need to constantly understand how much power is being generated at solar arrays, the report said.

This is where fiber comes into play. Solar arrays are generally huge, at least in terms of land covered, because even setups with a small number of panels generally distribute those architectures to locations where they collect UV rays as efficiently as possible. This creates an environment in which copper is far from perfectbecause it cannot cover the distance. The report explained that fiber is also resistant to lightning, will not face interference from all the electricity in the area and offers the performance needed to support rapid data delivery to help utility providers make effective decisions.

Making fiber work in the broad scope of solar arrays
Moving forward, power generation sites like solar arrays will likely end up connecting to the smart grid. This creates an environment in which the systems at the array will need both serial to Ethernet and fiber to Ethernet functionality. The core smart grid network will, in most cases, need to be built using Ethernet protocols and equipment to keep costs under control. However, specialized serial solutions that are common in utility setups and fiber deployments, like those in solar arrays, will make both media converters and terminal servers vital.

Perle offers a range of cost effective serial-to-Ethernet converters to help meet NERC-CIP compliance for the protection of critical cyberassets in substations. The IOLAN SDS HV/LDC Terminal Server is designed to meet theharsh environments associated with Power Substations with attributes such as support for substation AC and DC voltage ranges, extended operating temperatures and meeting emission, immunity and safety approvals associated with substation IT equipment.


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