PDVWireless and the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, Colorado have a project in the works to test private LTE broadband network for remote monitoring and control of energy distribution systems.

The Department of Energy recently classified the project as “high impact,” a status which is given to projects that “look to accelerate innovation in the private sector and develop scalable technologies” that are in line with DoE’s grid modernization efforts.

A private LTE broadband site using 900 MHz spectrum will be installed at NREL, which is DoE’s national lab for researching renewable energy and energy efficiency. The project will test the performance of private LTE broadband networks for use in the utility sector, with an eye toward improving resilience in highly distributed energy resource networks; it will also leverage NREL’s Advanced Distribution Management Systems (ADMS) test facility to see how ADMA communications play out on an LTE-based network.

PDV and NREL will “install a broadband LTE wireless communications system to test current and future use cases in a variety of network communications congestion scenarios that accurately represent real-life challenges faced by utility distribution systems,” according to pdvWireless. The goal of the project, it added, is to “develop the capability to evaluate the combined performance of integrated ADMS and communication systems and specifically determine the capabilities of private LTE networks as an enhanced communication layer for real-time monitoring and active control of advanced distribution systems that are essential in supporting electric grid modernization.”

The testing will be conducted at the Energy Systems Integration Facility at NREL. The first phase of the partnership will include the use of a license at 900 MHz for the NREL campus (PDV is a major 900 MHz spectrum holder) and assessment of LTE system performance in a simulation of traffic typical for utility networks. Utility control devices will be integrated into the LTE network, PDV said, to “develop a quantified understanding of the performance of a [distribution management system]when the communications system is LTE-based.”

“Having spent much of my career working within an electric utility with a focus on IT and telecommunications infrastructure, I’ve witnessed firsthand the rapidly growing need for secure and private communications networks for reliable utility operations,” said Mike Brozek, SVP of technology for pdvWireless, in a statement. The project with NREL, he added, “recognizes the need for strong and secure communications systems, not only for the energy management systems of today, but those that will be integrated into the electric grids of tomorrow.”

“While the goal for NREL is to validate the capabilities of telecommunications as an enhanced layer for real-time communications, PDV is looking more specifically at using private LTE wireless network technology within a specific band. NREL and PDV will work together to achieve these goals,” said Martha Symko-Davies, laboratory program manager at the ESIF at NREL, in a statement. “Our partnership with PDV will help inform the energy sector of the effectiveness of an ADMS using a private broadband network enabled by LTE technology.”

PDVWireless has been seeking to support the use of private LTE for utilities and other industrial settings. It is a significant holder of 900 MHz spectrum. Back in the days of Nextel, Sprint used holdings in the 896-901/935-940 MHz to operate its iDEN network. In 2014, that Nextel spectrum was acquired by PDV, which is headed up by a number of former Nextel executives, including Nextel’s co-founders. Although there are other licensees in the band, pdvWireless says that it is the largest holder with a nationwide footprint of licenses in the spectrum, owning about 60% of the channels with a nationwide footprint and an average of 240 channels (out of 399) in most major metro markets.

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