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USDA announces new smart grid projects

By Max Burkhalter
July 18, 2014

Installing smart grid systems in rural regions presents numerous challenges ranging from needing to find creative ways to monetize the project to deploying network architectures that can extend across the long distances between communities. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is working to accelerate the process of resolving these issues by helping rural utilities build out their smart grid systems to deliver more reliable, efficient and technically advanced energy delivery architectures.

The new rural smart grid project takes the form of a series of loans from the USDA to various rural utilities providers, totalingapproximately $263.3 million.

Bringing the smart grid to rural America
The project will involve utilities in eight statesand is aimed at not just upgrading the grid, but creating the types of smart grid configurations needed to stimulate local economies. Tom Vilsack, agriculture secretary for the USDA, explained that upgrading electricity infrastructure could play a key role in helping rural communities create new economic opportunities.

"America's infrastructure must be modernized if we are to continue to create jobs, expand opportunity and be competitive in the global economy," said Vilsack. "Modernizing our nation's rural electric infrastructure will help better support economic development in rural areas while helping to ensure reliable and affordable electric service for people who live and work in small communities across the country."

The loans will end up impacting approximately 3,700 miles of power lines that will either be purpose built as part of the initiative or improved. This expansion is spread over much of the country, not just a pocket of rural states in one region. Among the states included in the project are Virginia, California, Florida, Kentucky and Kansas.

Network considerations when building a rural smart grid
Serial to Ethernet solutions are always a key component in smart grid projects as they enable integration between the specialized serial-based network technologies often used at transformer sites and similar locations. However, rural communities working on smart grid projects also need to install monitoring devices and network communication lines throughout the power grid. This can mean installing new cabling over miles of lines between geographically disparate communities.

Such efforts are necessary to take advantage of the reliability benefits of the smart grid, but they depend on advanced cabling systems to spread the network over long distances. In this situation, fiber to Ethernet media converters end up playing a critical role in operations because fiber-optic cables are often the best fit for the long cable runs made necessary in rural regions.

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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