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Keep IPv6 in mind when developing smart grid architectures

By Donna Donnawitz
August 13, 2013

Building a smart grid is an incredibly complex and demanding process. When establishing intelligent grid architectures, utility providers must build a large communications network that interconnects power generation sites, transformer stations, end-user destinations and management centers. At the same time, the network must interact with specialized utility equipment, making serial to Ethernet signal conversion a necessary component of the network. On top of all of this, utility providers must consider the software, smart meter and other grid-specific elements of the revolutionary technology. With such a complex roadmap for smart grid adoption, utility providers must build the kind of network that can withstand the test of time.

There are a few things that need to be kept in mind when establishing a network that is future proof. One of them is IPv6 compatibility, a consideration that is especially important in smart grids.

Understanding the importance of IPv6 in smart grid systems
The legacy IPv4 protocol is still hanging on after decades of use, even though talks about IPv6 replacing it have been going on for years. There are many ways to extend IPv4 functionality and these methods are extremely valid in networks where IPv6 migration would be disruptive. However, IPv6 is widely regarded as a technically-superior network protocol, and connectivity systems like a smart grid are a natural fit for IPv6 because they are generally created using new networks, not by trying to switch a traditional IPv4 system over to IPv6.

Furthermore, the dwindling number of available IP addresses in the IPv4 configuration can prove incredibly limiting when it comes time to deploy smart meters, sensors and other devices that are plentiful in a smart grid setup.

It is also important to remember that, moving forward, IPv6 will likely be a prominent network protocol as more countries run out of available IPv4 addresses.

Overcoming IPv6 issues
IPv6 is a theoretically-superior network protocol, but it does a few things differently when it comes to packet transmission and verification. As a result, working with IPv6 systems can prove risky because some security threats emerge while organizations develop methods to address IPv6-specific issues. The technological solution still has the potential to be a much more secure option than IPv4, but it may take some time to get there. As a result, utility providers trying to use IPv6 to prepare their network for the future must carefully plan to deal with any security issues that may come from using the protocol.

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 harsh 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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