Radios’ Role in Distribution Automation Is Too Vital to Ignore

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Radio communications can be challenging to get right. When coordinating automation equipment, low radio-signal levels or traffic congestion can cause a miscommunication. That can lead to an outage, especially in the outer grid regions where fiber-optic communications might not be an option.

Utilities, especially smaller ones, that don’t have a dedicated radio expert may not be getting the most out of their distribution automation investment. It’s essential for a utility to use an expert with a deep understanding of radio communications equipment, settings, and design to ensure the radio system works properly and doesn’t cause costly misoperations.

Deploying a radio communication system requires a disciplined approach. At S&C, we recommend a three-step process:

Step 1: Complete a radio system design using a detailed modeling tool.
Step 2. Conduct a radio field survey to validate the radio system design by installing temporary survey radios and measuring radio performance.
Step 3: Tune the radio parameters for optimal performance.

After the permanent radio deployment, radio systems must be monitored and continually optimized. Radio-system performance changes over time when new buildings are built, trees grow, or interference increases from third-party devices operating on the same communications band or from the utility’s own system expansion.

A utility’s radio system may seem like it’s performing well, but is it working optimally? Are there unexplained missing SCADA poll responses, issued commands that “didn’t take,” or missed automation communications? If the utility hasn’t reviewed radio performance for some time, there may be undetected issues that should be addressed before they lead to a communication outage.

Establishing a radio-communication system is not a set-it-and-forget-it endeavor. The world changes around the radio network; utilities would be wise to use a radio expert to regularly review their communication-system performance to ensure maximum reliability and performance.

I’d be interested in learning your thoughts on this subject in the Comments below.




Angie Schuler


十月 2, 2019