The World Economic Forum (WEF), believes we are experiencing a fourth industrial revolution, powered by trends in communications, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things, that will impact both the supply and demand sides of the business equation. On the supply side, the WEF is, “seeing the introduction of new technologies that create entirely new ways of serving existing needs and significantly disrupt existing industry value chains.”
On the demand side, the organization expects, “growing transparency, consumer engagement, and new patterns of consumer behavior (increasingly built upon access to mobile networks and data) force companies to adapt the way they design, market, and deliver products and services.”
Utilities are in the middle of this revolution, changing rapidly to accommodate distributed energy resources and microgrids on the supply side, as well as expanded consumer expectations for information on the demand side. Smart Infrastructure solutions built on extensive field area networks (FANs) are the foundation on which utilities will successfully meet these challenges.
A FAN, according to consulting firm Black & Veatch, connect s people, processes and devices to smart utility networks, supporting “a variety of utility applications used to optimize grid performance and operations including distribution automation (DA), remote asset management, smart metering, and remote workforce automation. The FAN also serves as a foundation for future applications such as distributed power generation and energy storage, electric vehicle (EV) charging, and microgrids.
Research report evaluates FAN market
A recently released report from market research and advisory firm Navigant evaluates 13 companies offering solutions for holistic, territory-wide networks. The Utility Field Area Networking leaderboard report, written by Principal Research Analysts Richelle Elberg and Research Director Eric Woods, compares the companies against a dozen criteria including vision, go-to-market strategy, partners, production strategy, technology, and product portfolio.
The report notes that “the ways electric utilities may connect their grid edge assets to distributed or centralized information technology applications have grown. The number of vendors offering solutions has expanded in step. At the same time, FAN vendors historically focused on smart metering (advanced metering infrastructure, or AMI) or specific distribution automation (DA) applications have been busy expanding the ways that grid edge connectivity may be used to optimize grid performance and maximize utility ROI on network investments.”
Navigant evaluated companies that offer power line communication (PLC), radio frequency (RF) mesh, and point-to-multipoint (Pt2Mpt) FAN technologies. It weighed both past performance and the potential for future success (leaning toward the latter) when assigning scores.
4 FAN trends in utilities
Navigant discovered a few trends in the way utilities are looking at FANs, including:
- A focus on so-called holistic networking. Utilities are looking beyond AMI and DA to networks that can handle the requirements of distributed energy resources (DERs), smart cities, and the Internet of Things (IoT). Learn more about why a holistic approach is important.
- Interest in partnering with other utilities. Vendors want to demonstrate how their network solutions for electric utilities can be used in partnership with water and/or gas utilities, or municipalities. Discover why partnering is important at AclaraConnect.
- DA as the impetus for FAN purchases. Utilities are demanding that grid edge communications networks support DA applications as well as advanced metering infrastructure (AMI). Check out our blog on how utilities are looking at the DA ecosystem.
- The growing importance of total cost of ownership (TCO). Utilities are increasingly interested in the TCO of the network over a 10-15-year lifespan. More on why TCO is important when choosing an AMI provider.
Learn more about the report
An executive summary of Navigant’s 42-page leaderboard report on FANs can be downloaded the firm’s website by first signing up for a free account. This summary provides a market introduction, the criteria for vendor selection, and a detailed table of contents. It also offers a copy of the Navigant leaderboard grid that provides a high-level summary of how companies placed in the report.
Of the 13 companies studied, Aclara was recognized for its vision and end-to-end solution strategy, as well as its network portfolio and DA strategies.
“Aclara gets high marks in vision, technology, and product portfolio thanks to efforts to broaden its product lines and offerings coupled with its strategy for an end-to-end solution for utilities including water, gas, and combination utilities,” said Elberg.
The report recognizes Aclara for its strategic, holistic approach to network solutions, discussing both its power line communication and RF point-to-multipoint networks. (Aclara also offers a cellular network solution.) It also noted that its acquisitions by Hubbell, Inc. and subsequent incorporation into its Power Systems Group of brands, and significant acquisitions of GE’s electric meters business, Smart Grid Solution’s implementation services, and Tollgrade smart grid sensors has increased its strength in the market.
As the report executive summary concludes, “the ways electric utilities may connect their grid edge assets to distributed or centralized information technology applications have grown. The number of vendors offering solutions has expanded in step.”
The vendors evaluated in this report, many of which were until recently focused specifically on smart metering, AMI, or specific DA applications have expanded the ways that grid edge connectivity is optimized to improve the ROI of network investments.