Timing is everything – GNSS and the energy grids of the future

In the smart energy grids of the future, all energy market participants will communicate with each other, making energy supplies more reactive. This will bring many benefits, including reduced costs, improved efficiency and the seamless integration of the distribution of energy sources, including renewable energy. However, for smart grids to operate successfully they will have to be based on a solid and robust synchronisation infrastructure. This is where GNSS comes in.

Grid systems rely on GNSS clocks as a time reference source and atomic clocks as a backup in case of outages. GNSS receivers are comparably low-cost, reliable, high-precision timing sources that can be implemented in a large number in intelligent grids, to enable real-time automatic control of the grid.

“Due to the importance of the power system to our lives and economies, and the likelihood of future smart grid reliance on high-precision timing, it is critical that GNSS signals be resilient against interference,” said GSA Executive Director da Costa. “The accuracy and robustness of the Galileo service, and the added layer of protection that will be offered by the Open Service Navigation Message Authentication, means that Galileo will be the go-to solution for grid operators,” he said.

Galileo time

Two projects currently developing Galileo-enabled timing receivers, supported by the GSA through its Fundamental Elements funding programme, are GIANO and GEARS. Both receivers will make critical infrastructure and in particular the energy networks more robust against spoofing and will provide accurate Galileo-based timing and synchronisation capabilities.

“The Galileo programme is slowly becoming the EU’s official time reference that, together with national UTC(k) network time distribution, creates new powerful and robust synchronisation references for smart-grids,” said Tomasz Widomski, a member of the supervisory board of ELPROMA, a Polish manufacturer of NTP/PTP time servers.

“It is believed that the power industry evolving towards smart grids will rely on this solid foundation of timing information.  The main and regional systems must be tamper-proof and protected against external interferences – the time and synchronisation must be safe,” he said.

Horizon 2020 success story

ELPROMA was a member of the Horizon 2020 ‘DEMonstrator of EGNSS services based on Time Reference Architecture’ (Demetra) project, which developed a prototype of an EGNSS-based time disseminator that provides time certification, redundancy, resilience, integrity and improved accuracy, while validating the concept of ‘time as a service’. 

The company went on to win a seven-figure contract to supply Rubidium IEEE1588 NTS-5000 servers to support a country-scale modern smart grid system in Asia (read more here). These servers incorporate a modified version of the cyber-security solution developed as part of the Demetra project. As such, this is a Horizon 2020 success story.

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