Networked Microgrid Communications: Comparison
Please note this is a comparison between Version 1 by Ahmed Aghmadi and Version 2 by Fanny Huang.

Networked microgrids (NMGs) are developing as a viable approach for integrating an expanding number of distributed energy resources (DERs) while improving energy system performance. NMGs, as compared to typical power systems, are constructed of many linked microgrids that can function independently or as part of a more extensive network. This allows NMGs to be more flexible, dependable, and efficient. The communication network in NMGs enables seamless coordination and information exchange among interconnected microgrids. Real-time monitoring, control, and optimization of energy generation, storage, and consumption are facilitated through this communication network.

  • communication
  • standards
  • regulations
  • networked microgrids (NMGs)
  • Networked microgrids
  • Microgrid

1. Communication Requirements for Smart Grid Systems

Communication systems ensure dependable, efficient, and secure power generation, transmission, and distribution. They facilitate the exchange of information between distributed sensing equipment, monitoring, and data management systems [1][2]. In a microgrid system, communication is frequently required in both directions between the controller and the monitored or controlled devices, and despite advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), which only offers one-way monitoring, distributed energy resources (DERs) such as solar panels and battery storage exchange information with the microgrid controller (MC). According to a report from the U.S. Department of Energy [3], distribution systems utilizing these technologies need between 9.6 and 56.0 kbps. This bandwidth can be sufficient to build reliable communication between the controller and devices and allow for real-time data exchange in the grid. Here is a list of the requirements that a smart grid’s communication network must fulfill:
  • Latency: Latency can be described as the time in which data move between two points in a communication network inside a smart grid. The capacity of a smart grid to successfully control and manage the flow of energy is impacted by latency, which is a crucial component of the smart grid’s operation. Low latency is necessary for real-time applications such as demand response, grid monitoring, and power system safety because it helps the grid run effectively and consistently.
  • Reliability: Communication reliability is the capacity of a smart grid’s communication system to send data precisely and reliably. As it guarantees the proper operation of the grid’s different elements, including distribution systems, renewable energy sources, and energy storage systems, it is a critical component of the smart grid. Reliable communication is provided in the smart grid by using redundant communication channels, algorithms for error detection and correction, and routine testing and maintenance of the communication network.
  • Bandwidth: The smart grid communication network’s bandwidth requirements must be determined since they directly impact the choice of transmission media (fiber optics, radio waves, and coaxial cables) and communication technology (e.g., 3G, LTE, and WiMAX). It is crucial to remember that if suitable precautions are not followed, the communication system’s numerous endpoints could result in unmanageable bandwidth requirements [4].
  • QoS: The ability of the communication network to transmit the required information with the desired degree of dependability, performance, and security is ensured by the quality of service (QoS), which is a crucial requirement for smart grid communication. Data transmission must be quick, dependable, secure, and consistent across the smart grid communication network [5].
  • Scalability: Scalability is the capacity of a network or system to change to meet growing demand and to increase its capacity as necessary. Scalability is a crucial requirement for smart grid communication because the network must manage an increasing number of connected devices, an increase in data volume, and technological advances. Since the needs of the smart grid system are constantly changing, this requires a flexible and straightforward upgradable communication network [6].
  • Interoperability: Interoperability is necessary for smart grid communication for different gadgets, systems, and applications to collaborate efficiently. The communication system of the smart grid should be able to link to preexisting legacy systems and newer systems and technologies without much alteration. Interoperability is critical to ensuring that different gadgets, systems, and applications can interact and transfer information, allowing for more advanced features, such as surveillance, control, and real-time data analysis [7]. To achieve interoperability, open standards and protocols such as IEC 61850 and IEC 60870-5-104 must be used to ensure that communication systems are created with modular and adaptable structures.
  • Security: Security is a critical component of the smart grid’s communication infrastructure since it defends the sensitive data acquired from various elements from both physical and virtual threats. Most SG apps place a high premium on ensuring end-to-end security [8]. Security measures must be immediately integrated into the communication network rather than added as an afterthought.
  • Standardization is crucial to the smart grid communication system since it ensures interconnection and compatibility across different components and systems. Communication protocols, technologies, and interfaces must be standardized to facilitate the smooth integration of various components and systems, enabling efficient and effective communication.
Efficient communication is necessary for a networked microgrid system to run correctly and in coordination. In such a system, various microgrids are linked to form a more extensive network. Therefore, communication is needed to transfer data between these microgrids to harmonize the energy flow and ensure a secure and adequate power supply. The communication infrastructure used in networked microgrid systems usually comprises wireless networks, power line communication (PLC), and cellular networks. These technologies provide the real-time observation and management of energy generation and utilization and the potential to coordinate energy exchange between microgrids to balance energy supply and demand. For instance, if one microgrid has excess energy, it can communicate with another microgrid with excess energy, communicate with another microgrid with extra energy, communicate with another microgrid with a shortage, and transfer energy to meet the latter’s needs. In addition, communication also facilitates the integration of renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, into the networked microgrid [9].

2. Smart Grid Communication Technologies

“Smart Grid Communication Technologies” refers to the communication systems and protocols used for the efficient and accurate administration, control, and monitoring of the smart grid. These technologies enable data transmission through various smart grid components, including electricity generation, distribution networks, and energy management systems. The communication technologies used in the smart grid must comply with several standards, including real-time performance, reliability, security, and interoperability. Communication in a microgrid can be wired or wireless, and several systems require a combination. Choosing the appropriate communication technology for a given situation depends on several factors, including regional characteristics, operational and technical requirements, and financial constraints [10]. The cost, ease of installation, and interference influence the decision between wired and wireless communication in microgrid environments. Both types of communication can be helpful in various situations, but what works well in one may not work well in another. Although wired connections are less susceptible to interference problems than wireless connections, they can be more expensive to establish in a complex system. On the other hand, wireless communication may be more straightforward to implement.

2.1. Wired Communication

  • Power Line Communication (PLC)
Power line communication (PLC) is a data transmission technology that utilizes the electrical grid. High-frequency signals ranging from a few kilohertz to tens of megahertz are transmitted via lines in PLC. PLC systems are classified according to the frequency band in which they operate, such as ultra-narrowband (UNB-PLC), narrowband (NB-PLC), and broadband (BB-PLC). UNB-PLC operates in the 125 Hz to 3 kHz frequency range, NB-PLC operates in the 3–500 kHz frequency range, and BB-PLC operates in the 1.8–100 MHz frequency range [11]. NB-PLC is chosen in smart grid applications, where reliability, range, and durability are the key considerations.
In contrast, BB-PLC is employed in home and building area network internet access applications with a constrained coverage area [12]. PLC technology has many uses in the smart grid, including advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), demand response, and household energy management systems. Meter readings from residences and businesses can be sent to the utility company using AMI and PLC technology. Demand response systems employ PLC technology to link with demand response equipment installed in homes and businesses to control energy use during peak demand. Home energy management systems use PLC technology to communicate with and regulate intelligent equipment, such as smart plugs, lighting controls, and thermostats [13].
Notwithstanding its advantages, PLC technology has several disadvantages. The quality of the communication signal can be impacted by electrical noise and interference from other electrical appliances, which is one of the main difficulties. Signals used for long-distance communication can also deteriorate, rendering them unsuitable for massive communication networks.
  • Ethernet
Ethernet is a local area network (LAN) communication technology that employs a physical wire and a set of pre-established protocols to transport data between two devices. It was developed in the 1970s and is one of the most used communication technologies worldwide. It has a coverage range of 1 to 100 m, operates in the unlicensed 2.4 to 835 GHz band, and provides a 721 Kbps data transmission rate. The Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) architecture inspired the seven-layer communication structure used by Bluetooth-enabled devices, allowing for direct communication between two devices and communication among several devices. It provides a lower level of security than other technologies because of its potential for interfering with IEEE 802.11 wireless LAN networks and susceptibility to disruptions in the environment’s communication capacity [14].
  • Optical Fiber Communication
Due to its many benefits, optical fiber communication has become the leading technology for sustaining electrical power network communication. Some of these are a high bandwidth capacity, less signal deterioration, immunity to electromagnetic interference, and improved security [15]. Fiber optic communication is the best option for control and monitoring needs and backbone communication in wide-area networks (WANs). It supports high-speed data transmission over vast distances thanks to its high data transfer rates, ranging from 5 Gbps to 40 Gbps. Even though the startup investment and maintenance expenses could be high, its performance eventually makes it the ideal smart grid option [16].
  • Serial Communication
Serial communication sends data via a network or computer bus one bit at a time and consecutively. It is frequently used for interfacing microcontrollers, industrial automation systems, and computer peripherals. A start bit and a stop bit are used to separate each data word in asynchronous serial communication, which synchronizes data transfer with the assistance of a clock signal. Popular serial communication technologies used for various applications include RS-232, RS-485, and USB [17].

2.2. Wireless Communication

  • Cellular Communications
Voice, data, and multimedia content are sent and received using a network of cell towers and base stations in cellular communications. A smart grid may communicate with its many parts and equipment using cellular networks, enabling real-time power grid monitoring, control, and data exchange between devices [18]. The extensive preexisting infrastructure that makes it easy to communicate between various parts and devices and the high data transmission speed that enables quick and dependable communication are just two of the benefits that cellular networks offer for smart grid connectivity. The many cellular connection technologies now in use—including GSM, 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G, and LTE-M—offer varying coverage and data transfer speeds [19]. Nevertheless, a significant drawback of cellular networks for smart grid communication is that they are not exclusively dedicated to this purpose and are shared with other users, which might cause issues during crises.
  • Zigbee
The IEEE802.15.4 standard is the foundation of ZigBee technology [20]. With two-way wireless data transmission operating at 2.4 GHz and 868 and 928 MHz, IEEE802.15.4 is a cost-effective, high-efficiency, low-rate standard for personal area and peer-to-peer networks. Based on the definitions of the physical layer (PHY) and media access layer (MAC) in the IEEE802.15.4 standard, the ZigBee Alliance expands the network layer (NWK) and application layer structures (APL) [21]. Micro-power wireless communication systems, including ZigBee, are described in Table 1, along with some of their typical characteristics.
  • Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi is a wireless communication technology that provides high-speed internet and network connectivity using radio waves. It transmits data using the IEEE 802.11 standards and operates in the 2.4 and 5 GHz frequency ranges [22]. Wi-Fi has become a widely used technology. Multiple devices may connect to a single Wi-Fi access point, making it an ideal choice for households and small enterprises. However, interference from other signals in the 2.4 GHz frequency spectrum, such as Bluetooth devices, might cause interference, and the technology may have a limited range and penetration through walls. Wi-Fi network security is also an issue because data transferred over the airways might be intercepted by unauthorized users [23]. Despite these restrictions, Wi-Fi remains a popular wireless communication technology, particularly in the consumer and small business industries.
  • LoRaWAN (Long-Range Wide-Area Network)
LoRaWAN (Long-Range Wide-Area Network) is a wireless communication technology utilized in the Internet of Things (IoT) and smart grid applications. It is a low-power, long-range technology that operates in the sub-GHz spectrum, making it suitable for long-distance, low-data-rate communication with little power consumption [24]. By enabling wireless communication between intelligent devices without laborious local setups, the LoRaWAN standard streamlines the adoption of the Internet of Things. It grants more freedom to businesses, customers, and innovators [25].
Several strategies can be used to overcome the disadvantages of different types of communication. Data reliability is increased for PLC by integrating noise filtering, signal conditioning, and error-correcting codes. Ethernet can be extended and become more mobile by using network switches and repeaters, while fiber optic lines provide faster data speeds. Media converters make it possible to use the current infrastructure.
Signal boosters, error-checking protocols, and sophisticated serial communication protocols improve serial communication performance. In cellular communication, selecting trusted service providers, improving antenna positioning, and employing signal amplifiers can increase coverage. Zigbee networks can be used to overcome restrictions by installing more devices, strategically placing routers and repeaters, and adopting techniques such as frequency hopping. Wi-Fi range extenders can increase coverage, encryption algorithms can improve security, and channel selection and network design can improve performance. LoRaWAN may extend network coverage with additional gateways and adaptive data rate settings, while redundancy and failover techniques boost dependability. Applying these solutions to specific requirements can overcome shortcomings and improve overall communication system performance.

3. Impact of Communication on Networked Microgrid Systems

Communication is crucial for coordination and collaboration between microgrids in a networked microgrid system. Wireless and wired communication technologies are used to facilitate the exchange of information between microgrids, the central energy management system, and end users. Data on weather conditions, energy production and consumption levels, outages, and system failures are transmitted in real time to enable more efficient management and optimal power supply planning.
Wireless networks, such as Wi-Fi networks, wireless sensor networks (WSNs), and short-range communication (NFC) networks, are often used to connect renewable energy generation equipment, such as solar panels and wind turbines, to microgrids. These technologies are also used for real-time data collection, power generation monitoring and control, load management, and power supply planning.
Wired networks such as Ethernet, fiber optic, and powerline communication (PLC) connect microgrids to the central energy management system and end users. These technologies enable faster and more reliable data transmission and more secure and private communication. One of the most significant impacts of the communication layer on NMG systems is system reliability. Microgrids can only exchange power and data efficiently with reliable communication. This can result in communication delays, packet losses, and other problems, resulting in a loss of synchronization between the microgrids. As a result, the NMG system may have an unbalanced load distribution, with certain microgrids overloaded and others underused. This unbalanced load distribution can lead to power quality concerns, such as voltage and frequency fluctuations, which can cause the NMG system to become unstable. In some situations, it may also lead individual microgrids to function in islanded mode, separated from the broader power grid. This can result in power outages, harming critical infrastructures such as hospitals, data centers, and other vital services.
In networked microgrid systems, the security of the communication layer is a critical factor that must be evaluated. Cyberattacks on NMG communication networks can represent a significant risk to the system. Hackers can use communication network weaknesses to obtain unauthorized access to the system. Infiltration of this type might result in data theft, manipulation, or even system blackouts. Because the communication layer permits the interchange of sensitive data and control signals across microgrids, its security is critical. Furthermore, a cyberattack on a networked microgrid might result in substantial economic losses. Fixing and repairing the system can be expensive, and additional expenses related to consumer compensation and legal processes may be incurred.
The communication layer of a networked microgrid (NMG) system as shown in Figure 1 is critical to ensuring the appropriate functioning and management of the complete system. The communication network is in charge of sending control signals, instructions, and feedback across the many microgrids, allowing them to collaborate in a coordinated and efficient manner. However, if communication fails or the network becomes overloaded, it might result in a loss of control and synchronization between microgrids, making the system unstable. For example, if there is a delay or even a loss of control signals because of network congestion, the microgrids will not be able to receive the necessary commands in time, and therefore, the power output will not match the demand. As a result, the NMG system’s overall dependability and stability will be at risk.
Figure 1. Overview of NMG communication network framework.
Furthermore, the communication layer can impact the performance of the networked microgrid system very negatively since NMG communication networks are frequently complex and require significant bandwidth to send data for real-time management. Low bandwidth or mediocre quality of service (QoS) can cause severe damage, such as packet losses or reduced system performance. To reduce energy use and increase efficiency, energy management systems (NMGs) are increasingly being employed in buildings. A crucial component of these systems is the communication layer, which enables the linking of the various devices and parts of the system and the transmission of the data required for decision making.
Redundancy and fault tolerance must be considered while designing the communication layer to guarantee that the system will function effectively during a communication breakdown. Backup communication links, additional routing routes, and innovative technologies such as LoRaWAN, ZigBee, and Wi-Fi can accomplish this.

4. Communication Protocols and Standards

Communication protocols are essential to a networked microgrid system’s effective and reliable operation. Devices and systems can communicate and share information because of sets of rules and standards called communication protocols. Various criteria, such as functionalities, implementation, and use cases, can classify them. These protocols allow information to be exchanged between software applications running on multiple devices.
  • IEC 61850
    IEC 61850 was initially introduced in 2003 to integrate various components within a grid, such as protection devices, sensors, and control systems. It aims to enhance interoperability and flexibility by providing a standardized interface between various devices and systems [26][27][28]. The IEC 61850 standard is divided into several parts, each defining a specific protocol aspect. These include:
    • System Aspects (IEC 61850-1, IEC 61850-2, IEC 61850-3, IEC 61850-4, and IEC 61850-5): These parts outline the general and particular subjects and specifications for communications in a substation. They cover issues such as device information sharing and substation topology in addition to the communication network.
    • Configuration (IEC 61850-6): Based on the XML schema, this part describes configuring Intelligent Electronic Devices (IEDs) compatible with IEC 61850. The SCL offers a standardized method for defining a substation’s logical and physical elements and the communication links that connect them.
    • ACSI (Abstract Communication Service Interface): This is a crucial part of the IEC 61850 standard in power grid automation systems. This interface is split into four sections, each with a specific communication and data-handling function.
      • IEC 61850-7-1: Specifies the fundamental models of information that the system utilizes, including information on switching, status, and measurement data.
      • IEC 61850-7-2: Specifies the abstract services utilized in the system to manipulate and manage data, enabling compatibility across heterogeneous hardware and software.
      • IEC 61850-7-3: Outlines the typical data classes utilized inside the systems, including data types and communication services.
      • IEC 61850-7-4: Describes the concept of logical nodes, which are data object abstractions used to describe the functions and data of a system uniformly.
  • Mapping sections (IEC 61850-8 and IEC 61850-9) explain how information is mapped and exchanged between systems using one of the mapping methods (protocol stacks) outlined in the IEC 61850 standard.
  • Testing (IEC 61850-10): This document specifies a testing procedure to ensure that gadgets adhere to the IEC 61850 standard. The ability of devices from various manufacturers to function together seamlessly depends on this.
IEC 61850 can be used in networked microgrid systems to help communicate and coordinate different microgrids and energy management systems dispersed across diverse sites. By establishing a single communication platform, the standard can facilitate the exchange of control signals, monitoring data, and system status data between different microgrids and energy management systems. This allows other microgrids to work together in a more efficient and coordinated way, which can improve the stability of the power grid, reduce costs, and improve the reliability of the energy supply.
  • DNP3
The DNP3 communication protocol was first presented by Westronic Inc. in 1990 and made available to the public in 1993. Since then, the protocol has gained wide acceptance for building robust, open, and efficient SCADA systems [29]. In critical infrastructure settings, DNP3 is a reliable and efficient communication protocol. The master or server at the control center can more easily receive measurement data from an outstation or client in the field [30]. DNP3 is used in microgrid systems to monitor and manage distributed energy resources, including solar panels, wind turbines, and energy storage systems. The protocol enables communication between the microgrid control system and the various microgrid components. DNP3 supports time synchronization, which is critical for microgrid systems dependent on distributed energy resources. It enables the control system to manage energy flows and balance supply and demand in real time by providing accurate and synchronized time stamps.
  • Modbus
The Modbus protocol was initially developed by Modicon in 1979 as a messaging framework for facilitating communication between intelligent devices that function as master–slave systems [31][32]. Since then, it has become a standard communication protocol for many types of industrial equipment and sensors. The Modbus protocol was initially developed for asynchronous serial lines such as RS-232 and RS-485, which connect intelligent devices. RTU and ASCII transmission modes are supported, but only the former is required. As shown in Figure 2 for RTU mode, a Modbus frame for serial lines consists of a single Modbus Protocol Data Unit (PDU) inside a Modbus Application Data Unit (ADU) as shown in Figure 3.
Figure 2. Modbus frame construction for serial line transmissions in RTU mode.
Figure 3. Modbus TCP frame.
Modbus can improve communication between parts such as inverters, generators, and energy storage systems in standalone microgrids. These components can communicate status and performance data using Modbus, which enables the microgrid controller to control energy flows and balance supply and demand in real time. This may contribute to raising the microgrid’s overall effectiveness and dependability. In addition to that, Modbus is a dependable and widely adopted protocol that can be used to facilitate communication and data exchange in networked microgrid systems.
  • OPC UA
OPC UA is a set of standard protocols that enable interoperability between automation and control applications, field systems and devices, and enterprise applications in the process control industry, providing a communication infrastructure and information model standardized as IEC 62541 by the OPC Foundation [33]. Figure 4 depicts the two backbones, the transport model, and the data model, in the architecture of OPC UA.
Figure 4. OCP UA architecture.
In a networked microgrid system, OPC UA facilitates data interchange and communication across components, assuring effective and coordinated control and offering innovative cybersecurity features such as encryption and authentication.
  • MQTT
MQTT (Message Queuing Telemetry Transport) was developed in 1999 by Andy Stanford-Clark of IBM and Arlen Nipper of Arcom Control Systems. It is a lightweight messaging protocol that uses the publish/subscribe principle and operates on TCP/IP. A client publishes messages to a broker, which can be subscribed to by other clients and stored as future subscriptions. Clients can subscribe to multiple topics to receive all published messages, and each message is sent to a topic address [34]. Figure 5 illustrates the elements and process of MQTT protocol.
Figure 5. MQTT publisher/subscriber architecture.
MQTT works best for sizable embedded system networks that must be supervised or managed from an online back-end server. Device-to-device communication and multicasting data to numerous receivers are not intended uses. It is a straightforward messaging protocol with a few control options.
  • AMQP
Like MQTT, AMQP operates based on the principle of publish/subscribe. AMQP is an open and standardized application layer protocol built for messaging settings, emphasizing Internet of Things (IoT) applications. It facilitates reliable message exchange between devices and systems, even in dispersed and diverse situations [35]. It provides messaging-related capabilities such as dependable queuing, flexible routing, and transaction support. It also supports topic-based publish-and-subscribe messaging, allowing efficient communication and data sharing in message-oriented contexts [36].
  • CoAP
CoAP uses the client/server communication pattern, where a client sends a request to a server with a method code and URI for a resource, and upon processing the request, the server sends a response back to the client with the information requested [37]. CoAP can be used in networked microgrids to exchange data between resource-constrained IoT devices that require lightweight communication protocols. CoAP’s client/server communication pattern enables efficient communication between devices and servers in a microgrid, allowing them to communicate information on the state of the grid, energy demand, and renewable energy source availability. The controllers and management systems may utilize these data to improve the functioning of the microgrid, delivering a reliable and efficient energy supply to users. Furthermore, Uniform Resource Identifiers (URIs) via CoAP enable simple identification and access to specified resources in the microgrid network, facilitating device discovery and administration.
  • BACnet
BACnet is a vendor-independent communications protocol for Building Automation and Control Networks (Figure 6). BACnet specifies a set of rules that govern how devices should communicate effectively. Because of their normalization, BACnet devices can communicate with one another regardless of manufacturer. BACnet is a four-layer protocol stack that is more than just an application layer protocol. Different protocols can be used in the physical and data link layers to accommodate different environments. The network layer enables the connectivity of two or even more BACnet networks. The application layer is in charge of actual data exchange between BACnet devices, BACnet objects, properties, and services play an important role in the application layer [38].
Figure 6. Layers of BACnet protocol for building automation and control network.


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