This month, we are celebrating the work we do with Neos Networks, who joined PNDC as a member in 2019. Brett Johnson, Interim Sales Director – Power and Scotland, caught up with us to discuss the partnership and talk a little more about what’s happening in the telecoms industry today.
What benefits does the partnership with PNDC bring to your company?
With smart grid transformation and the changing ways consumers use energy, we are supporting power companies to upgrade their telecommunication infrastructure. We rarely test in a live environment so working with an organisation like PNDC can be very helpful when experimenting with different types of communications technologies. There are big developments afoot in the way the grid is operating, and working with an organisation that can help us with the changes in technology is very helpful. But while the electricity industry is changing dramatically in terms of the digital world, there are still lots of legacy services and platforms out there. For example, as the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) fast approaches end of life, we have to think about how we introduce replacement technology like the IoT (Internet of Things). Having an environment where we can test without impacting a live network is invaluable.
What are the challenges faced by your sector at the moment and how will working with PNDC help overcome these?
Climate change is a major focus for one and all right now, nowhere more so than in the energy and utilities sector. If you look at things like COP26 for example, industry effort to move to more green, renewable power is truly global and one which unites so many. The partnership gives us the ability to work collaboratively with vendors, as well as other partners, and so organisations that allow the industry to collaborate are going to support how the industry needs to evolve when responding to changing market demands.
Can you highlight any projects you have worked on with PNDC and how these are working towards net zero goals?
We’re working to upgrade the communications network of many of our customers in line with the PNDC. From replacing legacy equipment and upgrading primary substations, to improving the communications that support the digital transition. We’re increasing bandwidth and looking at how we deliver various services over the connections. It’s important that they are prepared and set up for the two-way collaborative communication required as part of the DNO-DSO transition. Increasing the bandwidth on this is also important so that, as more devices are connected, the network remains consistent. One of the trends we’ve seen is a preference towards organisations using fibre-optic infrastructure, as opposed to taking a fixed connection. I think there is opportunity for us to work with PNDC to showcase the benefits of using fibre-optic infrastructure to help power companies.
Can you discuss the relationship between telecoms and energy in the digitisation of the sector?
The ability for companies to monitor and make changes to their network is determined by its underlying telecommunication infrastructure. In fact, smart grids are heavily reliant on this underlying connectivity. It’s imperative that the network in place is capable of delivering the bandwidth required for energy companies to manage vast swathes of data while maintaining uptime across the nation. As such, the relationship between telecoms and energy is becoming increasingly more important as we move to a digital-first utility world. From a telecoms perspective, our technology and services are going to be front and centre to enable the utility companies to deliver on moving towards a net zero digital future. As connectivity providers, it is crucial we deliver a safe, resilient network from a service and security point of view as utility companies move to this smart network.
Can you shed light on the energy sector as a constituent part of critical national infrastructure and how telecoms and connectivity play an integral role in ensuring communities are constantly served?
We take security very seriously and I’m often speaking to customers around the criticality of the infrastructure. We wouldn’t be providing infrastructure services to critical infrastructure organisations if we didn’t have the security credentials required. If a network is compromised, it could be catastrophic and you could effectively lose power. With every product we launch we go through rigorous and ongoing penetration testing to ensure this is not the case. If there is a disruption in service, we automatically default services over a secondary route until the first is stabilised. We have over 20 years industry experience and are experienced in not only delivering mission-critical connectivity services but also dealing with any challenges that may occur. It’s fair to say that we have a very good understanding of the service requirements we need to provide.
How do you see emerging technologies and next generation connectivity providing visibility of infrastructure and virtual networks?
Going forward, the ability for utilities firms to share data between each other will be crucial. This means there will be a big need for robust IT technology. From a network point of view there’s also going to be a requirement for companies to easily share network and asset locations. Firms will want a real time view of their network and our technology and connectivity will underpin that. IoT will play a much greater role in the development of condition monitoring and smart infrastructure, and it’s likely we’ll be deploying more sensors across networks to enable this. This will help energy companies prevent outages and regulate the generation and transmission of power, especially once the grid is able to sustain a two-way flow of communication.
How can partners like Neos Networks help DNOs identify areas requiring further investment?
It’s imperative that we align our work to that of the utility companies. By understanding the geography of future infrastructure, we can collaboratively expand our network as we service the needs of energy companies in their transition towards a higher bandwidth digital future. We are looking at opportunities to work with DNOs to reduce the costs of building infrastructure. Neos Networks owns and operates one of the largest fibre optic networks in the UK at over 24,000km with plans to expand to 30,000km before the year is out. This fibre covers large cities and towns as well as some of the typically harder to reach regions across the nation. Working in partnership is key.
Can you comment on the role of Ofgem and impact of regulation such as RIIO-2?
RIIO-2 is effectively putting the consumer at the centre of the plan. Utility companies invest in the network and infrastructure, providing a better service to the consumer and a more reliable service. It also considers the evolution of the network, thinking more about the move to net zero, heat pumps and renewable energy. RIIO-2 is going to establish how we work with the utility companies to understand their business plans, how we align that with budgetary constraints and provide the best solution for them.
What steps are you taking towards green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic?
Organisations have taken the opportunity to carry out essential works which were seen as challenging prior to the pandemic. This has led to peaks in demand in terms of building designs and implementing networks. But because we’re working with organisations that make up our critical national infrastructure, I’ve not seen any slow up due to COVID. These businesses need to keep the lights on! While other industries have inevitably been impacted as companies shifted to remote working models, the utilities industry seems to have fared well, with no real impact seen from COVID.
What developments would you like to see in your sector in the next 12 months?
The trend towards renewables is building momentum at pace. The high usage of EV vehicles is also going to lead to big change to the industry. Having the underlying infrastructure there to support is essential. I think we’ll also see a more rapid pace in roll-out as businesses embrace digitalisation and the development of smart grids. From our point of view, it’s imperative that we continue delivering robust and resilient connectivity to ensure the sector can continue innovating and building its digital future, while keeping the country fully up and running at all times.