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Case study: Ergon Energy

Enterprise

Ergon Energy uses BGAN M2M for efficient grid monitoring and control.

Ergon Energy maintains and manages the regional electric distribution network across Queensland, Australia. They provide energy for more than 720,000 homes and businesses, covering 97% of the state of Queensland - more than a million square kilometres. Their distribution network covers some of the most rural parts of Australia, requiring 160,000 kilometres of power lines and more than a million power poles.

The challenge

Utility network management is complex. When severe weather or natural disasters hit, temporary or permanent damage can occur to the transmission grid. It is estimated that over 80% 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 in order to isolate faults to as small a part of the grid as practical.

Traditionally these segments were controlled by breakers installed at key points in the network. However, breakers can only respond to significant power surges and are only installed at sub-stations, so resilience is less than optimal. Reclosers eliminate these shortcomings as they enable utility companies 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 network, meaning that damage can be isolated and power re-routed without waiting for a substation to be affected.

In order to function optimally, reclosers need an always-available, real-time connectivity solution for instant control in cases of outage or disruption to power lines. They can be triggered remotely and also provide data back to the operations center, enabling utility companies to prioritise restoration activities, reduce customer outage time, decrease revenue impacts from outages and minimise the potential for cascading infrastructure damage.

The solution

Ergon Energy have installed hundreds of reclosers throughout their 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. Their requirements for remote connectivity were a single, ubiquitous, reliable network that was impervious to natural disasters and weather events, while providing a high level of security. Inmarsat’s BGAN M2M service met those requirements, providing a seamless, easy to integrate, real-time, IP-based connectivity service, to remotely monitor, control, and manage their recloser network.

Ergon tasked its subsidiary telecommunications carrier, Nexium Telecommunications, to seek out a supplier. After testing the market Nexium partnered with AST to offer the services.

Since BGAN M2M is powered by Inmarsat’s global 3G satellite network, Ergon Energy were able to use a direct interconnect to the Australian meet-me-point in Sydney to integrate the recloser network into their existing distribution automation network control system.

The results

Ergon Energy’s initial deployment of 100 terminals was completed quickly and efficiently, with no need for specialist installers or training, and rapidly increased, with connectivity being provided to various other distribution automation devices and sites. Each recloser uses between 5MB and 15MB of data per month in real time. BGAN M2M’s pooled data plans means that Ergon Energy has complete budget control for their communications needs, since each terminal draws from a shared pool of data.

BGAN M2M provided the reliability, cost effectiveness, security and ease of use that Ergon Energy were looking for to automate and monitor their distribution network, and with the service expected to have an operational lifetime well into the 2020s, BGAN M2M will continue to serve efficiently and effectively for many years to come.

BGAN M2M benefits

  • Reliable network – 99.9% satellite and ground network availability
  • IP-based network with two-way encryption to integrate securely with existing IT infrastructure
  • Worldwide coverage – one provider to cover entire distribution network
  • Easy to set up and maintain, with no requirement for specialist staff or training
  • Cost–effective flexible pricing options for consistent budget planning and control

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