Case Study: Satellite Service Improves
Grid Reliability in Rural Australia
Utility network management is complex. When severe
weather or natural disasters hit, temporary or permanent
damage can occur to the grid. It is estimated that more than
80 percent of network faults can be attributed to short-term
“transients” in supply from disrupted power lines. To combat
this, utility companies segment their distribution networks to
isolate faults to as small a part of the grid as practical.
These segments, traditionally, were controlled by
breakers installed at key points in the network. Breakers
can respond only to significant power surges, however. In
addition, they are typically installed only at substations. This
means resilience is less than optimal. Reclosers eliminate
these shortcomings because they enable utilities to manage
and monitor their network in a more efficient manner before
substations can be affected. They can be placed at strategic
locations throughout the control network, allowing damage to
be isolated and power re-routed before a substation is affected.
To function optimally, reclosers need an always-available, real-time connectivity solution that allows instant
control in cases of outage or disruption to power lines. The
reclosers can be triggered remotely and also can provide data
back to the operations center, enabling utilities to prioritize
restoration activities, reduce customer outage time, decrease
revenue impacts from outages and minimize the potential for
cascading infrastructure damage.
Ergon Energy, which is owned by the government of
Queensland, Australia, distributes electricity to about
720,000 customers across Queensland. There are two sides to
the utility—the side that builds and maintains the electricity
distribution network and the retail side that sells electricity to
residential and business customers. As an electricity retailer,
Ergon Energy Retail sells electricity and provides customer
service and support.
The network part of Ergon Energy builds and maintains the
electricity distribution network for regional Queensland. It is,
in essence, the “poles and wires” company. Its infrastructure
covers 97 percent of the state of Queensland—more than a
million square kilometers. Its distribution network covers
some of the most rural parts of Australia, requiring 160,000
kilometers of power lines and more than 1 million power poles.
Ergon Energy has installed hundreds of reclosers
throughout its network, with a significant number operating in
the most isolated parts of the state, areas in which traditional
connectivity methods, such as cellular and terrestrial,
are limited or not available. Its requirement for remote
connectivity was a single, ubiquitous, reliable network that
was impervious to natural disasters and weather events, and
could provide a high level of security.
Ergon tasked its subsidiary telecommunications carrier,
Nexium Telecommunications, to seek out a supplier.
Nexium Telecommunications selected Inmarsat’s BGAN
M2M service to meet those needs. The satellite and ground
network provides a seamless, easy to integrate, real-time, IP-based connectivity service, to remotely monitor, control and
manage Ergon’s network.
The Wideye Ranger BGAN M2M terminal is a single-piece terminal that can be pole mounted. Because it has an
IP66 water and dust resistance rating, it is an ideal solution
for long-term, unmanned installation in remote areas.
Ergon Energy initially deployed 100 terminals quickly
and efficiently, with no need for specialist installers or
training. These 100 terminals allowed the utility to rapidly
increase its connectivity to various distribution automation
devices and sites. Each recloser uses between 5 MB and 15
MB of data per month in real time. BGAN M2M’s pooled
data plan allows Ergon Energy complete budget control for
its communications needs, because each terminal draws from
a shared data pool.
“The Inmarsat BGAN M2M service has given us access
to parts of our distribution network that had remained out of
bounds when it comes to remote monitoring and control,”
said Sanjeewa Athuraliya, senior telecommunications
architect, Ergon Energy. “We chose Inmarsat for its reliability.
Monitoring and controlling a power grid needs a real-time,
always available flow of information and we’re happy to say
Inmarsat’s service has been extremely reliable.”
BGAN M2M provided the reliability, cost effectiveness,
security and ease of use that Ergon Energy needed to
automate and monitor its distribution network. In addition,
the operational lifetime of the service should run well into
by Chuck Moseley, Inmarsat
Chuck Moseley is
director, Internet of
Everything, at Inmarsat.
He joined Inmarsat in
2003 with more than
18 years’ experience
He is responsible for
of M2M products and
services worldwide. Prior
to this role, he managed
all North American SCADA
and projects for Stratos
(now part of Inmarsat).