Grid Diagnostics Enabled by PLC for Sensing

Power Line Communications (PLC) have been extensively deployed both for in-home high speed networking and for smart grid operation management. In the latter context, PLC are used as a mean of controlling and monitoring the power flow of the grid. They enable the exchange of information among devices like meters, as well as their control. Implemented through distributed coordination algorithms, PLC also foster the usage of routing strategies for both power and data. With these capabilities, the smart grid is able to control the power flows from different distributed sources, to optimize power demand, to avoid energy waste, and to balance network loads to obtain the maximum efficiency.

I have a vision of PLC acting as deep and pervasive probes that sense and diagnose electrical grid malfunctions, power generation and consumption levels, environmental phenomena, and human activities.

Andrea Tonello

But PLC are not a mere communication technology. The power grid is a fully interconnected system where all electrical phenomena affect the entire network. Moreover, it is influenced by external physical events. Hence, PLC nodes can be used to sense the grid itself and as well as the surrounding environment. In other words, PLC nodes can act as probes for grid diagnostics by analyzing the electromagnetic field and the data traffic in the PLC frequency bands. The results are significantly more accurate than those currently achieved by sensors and measurement units. Possible applications of PLC sensing are:

  • Fault Detection
  • Cable aging
  • Load identification
  • Grid topology inference/derivation

Our group currently works on new concepts and algorithms in order to develop novel PLC sensing applications. Among several applications, topology derivation is particularly intriguing: “Can we derive the topology of a wireline grid and more in particular of a smart grid ?” prof. Tonello asks. Why is the topology knowledge of importance ? Well, in the context of Power Line Communications (PLC) networks, it is helpful to implement data routing strategies, while in power distribution networks and Smart Micro Grids (SMG) it is required for grid monitoring and power flow management.

“We recently applied transmission line theory to show how the topological properties of a wired network can be detected exploiting admittance measurements at the nodes. We analytically prove that the topology of complex networks (like power distribution grids) can be identified under certain assumptions. A practical algorithm has been derived to handle the presence of network background noise on admittance measurements.”

Selected Publications

F. Passerini and A. M. Tonello. On the exploitation of admittance measurements for wired network topology derivation. IEEE Transactions on Instrumentation and Measurements, 2017.

F. Passerini and A. M. Tonello. Power line network topology identification using admittance measurements and total least squares estimation. In Proc. IEEE International Conference on Communications, 2017.

F. Passerini and A. M. Tonello. Power line fault detection and localization using high frequency impedance measurement. In Proc. IEEE International Symposium on Power Line Communications and its Applications, 2017.