RE Magazine

Strike Up the Bandwidth 

To unlock the full potential of smart grid investments, electric co-ops are adopting innovative strategies for upgrading their communication networks

Co-op Tech

By Bill Koch

ILLUSTRATION BY DAVID CLARK
ILLUSTRATION BY DAVID CLARK

When it comes to moving the vast amounts of information harvested from advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems, and automated down-line equipment, the perfect communications vehicle has yet to appear. Conventional powerline carrier (PLC) schemes, although highly reliable, sometimes struggle to meet throughput capacity and latency (speed) requirements associated with increased back-and-forth data traffic.

As a result, growing numbers of electric co-ops are building hybrid communication networks that blend PLC with radio frequency (RF) wireless capabilities as well as wired, fiber, or commercially owned and operated services. Often, the choice boils down to terrain.

Corn Belt Power Cooperative, a generation and transmission co-op (G&T) headquartered in Humboldt, Iowa, supplies wholesale power to 10 distribution members across northern Iowa. Communications Superintendent Lynn Miller sees wireless as the way to go―few hills and little heavy foliage keep transmission strength relatively stable. "However, in a good growing season when the corn gets high, we do actually see some minor signal degradation."

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