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SCADA stands for supervisory control and data acquisition. It is an overall control system for industrial processes. It is used in factories for the automation of processes and is also typically found in utility and energy environments where it is used for the management of telemetry and control commands to machinery and plant in remote locations. When considering a system integrator to deliver network modernisation as part of a smart grid’s journey it is recommended to work with a partner such as MMX that has the requisite knowledge and experience of such deployments.

At the network edge, an RTU (remote terminal unit) is used to interface with the plant and equipment. At the control centre(s) a front-end processor (FEP) is found which is interface software and hardware that transfers control commands to the RTUs.

In between these network elements is a private telecom network comprised of a range of transmission media which might include any or all of UHF/ VHF radio, fibre, LTE mobile devices, microwave radio and copper cables carrying SHDSL lines. Some in the utility industry have the intention to move towards PLTE (Private LTE) based solutions in 2028 but this will be subject to the allocation of appropriate spectrum by the UK Government. These networks commonly have plenty of redundancy built in so that a number of discrete routes to each RTU are ensured by design. This is the area where an experienced partner such as MMX can bring strategic advantage to the utility company by designing, building and maintaining such telecom networks with resiliency and redundancy built in.

One of the challenges involved here is that some legacy RTU devices have serial interfaces and therefore it is necessary to perform the translation to ethernet using a terminal server. Often power and water distribution companies are using a specific subset of the serial protocol.

Even though all of the electricity distribution network operators (DNO’s) and equivalent water and gas companies have their own very experienced telecom teams outsourcing to a company like MMX can make a lot of sense to augment existing teams and to bring a fresh perspective and learnings from the wider industry. MMX has broad experience from supporting a range of DNO and other utility organisations to achieve their aims.

As with telecom, more generally this can be a legacy environment and many utility organisations are seeking to replace analogue systems with contemporary IP-based equipment. Increasingly this is aligned with the desire to move towards so-called smart grids. Typically a smart grid is one that moves beyond the one-way interaction between the grid and subscriber to a two-way flow of both electricity and also information. It also means the integration of renewables such as wind and solar and the ability for consumers to charge electric vehicles at home and at work. Ultimately such grids are more efficient, can balance loads better and are better for the environment. Governments are interested in the deployment of smart grids because they are a way to improve energy efficiency, the environment and also can help with energy independence and so they are a win for everyone.