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Optical networks play key role in smart grid systems

By Max Burkhalter
March 8, 2013

Sometimes it's amusing how technologies end up fitting neatly into one another. Many parts of the United States are working to develop fiber-optic cabling infrastructure to support rising network demands. At the same time, many utility providers are trying to develop smart grid systems to support more efficient energy use around the country. It's convenient then, isn't it, that smart grid and fiber-optic network infrastructure are closely tied to one another?

The relationship between smart grid and fiber is one that, as of yet, is only being explored. Long-term, however, there is a decent chance that fiber becomes an important media type in the smart grid ecosystem. To understand how, consider how the smart grid works:

Attributes of smart grid that beg for fiber connectivity
Real-time data transit: In an ideal situation, utility providers will use the smart grid to gather electricity use and generation data in real time so they can understand the precise needs and operations of the grid. This represents a lot of information from a variety of sources. Even if it is initially passed through copper-based Ethernet networks, it will probably need a fiber backhaul line that it all filters through as it travels between neighborhoods, communities and other groups covered by a common utility provider. This is equally true in urban and rural areas, as urban areas would generate a lot of data in minimal space, making a short fiber link necessary. In the case of rural regions, fiber is key to because a variety of towns may be connected by a single utility provider, making the performance of fiber needed to deal with latency issues that can emerge when data travels over a long distance.

Network-based maintenance: The smart grid can do this cool thing where it identifies where a power line is broken using sensors and tells people that it needs to be repaired. This is a nice upgrade over the current model in which individualshave to call the utility provider saying that they don't have power and wait around while a bunch of people in trucks drive around squinting at power lines to see if their broken. If the smart grid is going to do this effectively it needs a combination sensors and high-performance networking. Optical cabling makes both of those things easier to obtain.

Making fiber work with the smart grid
Fiber to Ethernet converters are critical to getting the most out of the smart grid. Most local smart grid systems need to be built on Ethernet for a variety of reasons, so making fiber work depends on media converters that enable Ethernet interoperability.

Perle has an extensive range of Managed and Unmanaged Fiber Media Converters to extended copper-based Ethernet equipment over a fiber optic link, multimode to multimode and multimode to single mode fiber up to 160km.


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