Electric Utilities CVR wins with 5G and IoT - PART 2

By Ken Caird, Chief technology Officer, Energy & Utilities at VNCTech Group 

Since the early 1990s, there have been extensive discussions about automating the electric distribution network of utilities around the world. This topic became so popular that a trade show, “DistibuTech”, was created to promote the ideas and innovation within distribution automation.

Electric utilities have automated their distribution feeders to:

  1. Improve Power Quality (SAIFI, MAIFI, SAIDI, etc.)

  2. Reduce Network Losses (VAR & I2R)

  3. Reduce peak loads

  4. Increase network Capacity

  5. Defer capital improvements


Although much progress has been made in developing process and technology, we have yet to see a broad implementation of distribution automation across all utilities. There are a number of reasons for this, with the number one impediment to broad deployment being communication constraints including:

  1. Cost

  2. Access … Right of Way

  3. Frequency Allocation

  4. Bandwidth Limitations

  5. Latency Issues

  6. Congestion Issues


In summary, the communications technologies of the past failed because of the cost to roll out dedicated communications infrastructure and the bandwidth was not scalable to large number of devices.

Recent advances in 5G wireless telecommunication technology may be the answer to these constraints. Telecom companies throughout North America are all busy rolling out this next generation of wireless telecommunications technology making it more and more available and accessible.

5G is the 5th generation mobile network and enables a new kind of network that is designed to connect virtually everyone and everything together including machines, objects, and devices. 5G wireless technology can deliver higher multi-Gbps peak data speeds, ultra low latency, more reliability, massive network capacity, increased availability, and a more uniform user experience to more users. Higher performance and improved efficiency empower new user experiences and connects new industries such including Electric Utilities.(Ref Qualcomm).

These are very lofty promises. Let us look at the numbers:

  1. Bandwidth (5G is 10x faster than predecessor)

  2. Latency

    • 4G : 50-80ms

    • 5G : 1-10ms

    • Network capacity

      • 4G : Hundreds of devices

      • 5G : 10's of thousands of devices


So how is 5G going to enable electric utilities to build out their distribution automation programs? Building out a dedicated communications network just for distribution automation was always too costly and a nonstarter. This limited the number of distribution feeders automated to what was deemed “critical feeders”. But if 5G is broadly deployed as promised by telecom companies across most of North America, is priced at the same levels as 4G, has considerably more bandwidth, and much lower latency than any distribution network in existence today, this becomes the accelerator for distribution automation across all utilities as it closes all the past constraints. 5G becomes even more attractive when you consider 10’s of thousand devices can be connected to the 5G network with little or no impact on network performance.

The following are three distribution automation applications:

  1. Conservation Voltage Reduction (CVR)

  2. Volt/Var Optimization

  3. Fault Location Isolation and Service Restoration (FLISR)


Let us take a closer look at conservation voltage reduction (CVR) in this blog. I will cover the other two applications in upcoming blogs so stay tuned!). CVR can save utilities hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in following areas:

  1. Fuel Savings

  2. Peak over-take penalties

  3. Capital deferment projects … allows increased capacity

  4. GHG reductions


Here is how this works … When supplying power to a customer premise, utilities must comply to ANSI C84.1. ANSI C84.1 states that voltage at the customer premise must by +/- 5% of reference voltage. So, if we take 120 volts as our reference, voltage must be maintained between 126 Volts and 114 volts.

In order to meet ANSI standards utilities typically adjust their Load Tap Changers (LTC) and voltage regulators to take into account for voltage drop due to system load across the feeder. Since not many, if any voltages are measure along the feeder, utilities typically use “rules of thumb”, often very conservative, to set the voltage.

CVR is an application designed to decrease network voltages in order to reduce the energy required to supply the load as power is proportional to voltage squared. Thus a 1% voltage reduction translates to a 2% power reduction. CVR programs usually achieve from 0.5 to 3% power reductions.

This is good, but CVR can be more efficient with 5G by providing the characteristics supporting a full IoT implementation across the entire system. An IoT model consisting of 5G coupled with low cost sensors and protocols can monitor voltages right at the customer premise where CVR programs can obtain real time updates on network voltages at every customer premise as well as LTC’s and voltage regulators to optimize voltages along the feeder network to reduce power to an absolute minimum.

Using 5G and low cost IoT sensors to provide precise voltage measurements instead of “rules of thumb” or engineering estimates should improve CVR load reduction by another 1 or 2 %.


Transitioning to such a new technology will require transformational leadership. Technical requirements will have to be clarified, R&D programs will have to be implemented, design for manufacturability on a large scale will be imperative, cost targets identified, roll out plans and schedules created, and lastly a “go to market” strategy agreed upon.

Presently, there is a great opportunity for smaller tech companies to obtain incredible market share if they make the right decisions and invest in this new type of technology leadership. I believe the utility associated tech companies, who embrace dynamic technology leadership to plan and execute the near-by future, will be laying the foundation towards becoming the largest and most successful Company in the industry.

Chief Technology Officer

Energy & Utilities

VNCTech Group



Dallas, Texas, USA

VNC Technologies Company

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