In partnership with Electricité Réseau Distribution France (ERDF) and Sagemcom, Maxim developed the G3-PLC specification to promote open-endedness and interoperability among smart grid implementations. The company's G3-PLC protocol has now been approved by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) as a new low-frequency, OFDM-based narrowband powerline communications (NB-PLC) standard.
This is no small feat for analog component specialist Maxim since the company is currently the only semiconductor vendor to have G3-PLC compliant chips already in production. Market projections from ABI Research estimate that about 250M smart meters could be installed by 2015, 60% of which adopting PLC technology.
A couple of months ago, other vendors STmicroelectronics, Freescale, Renesas and Texas Instruments have also developed modem chips and demonstrated interoperability, meeting the utilities' requirement for second-sourcing.
By using orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM) combined with two layers of error-corrections, the G3-PLC standard supports a data rate up to 300kbps in the noisy powerline environment, over a wide 10kHz to 490kHz frequency range which complies with international powerline signaling regulations, including CENELEC, FCC, and ARIB. Currently, it is the only narrow-band PLC standard to support the IPv6 internet protocol.
"This opens up new internet-based energy management solutions", explains Michael Navid, General Manager for Powerline Communications business at Maxim Integrated Products. "What utilities wanted was a technology that would be more reliable and secure than Frequency Shift Keying used in current PLC products, with a higher data rate and a better range. But what is truly unique to the new standard is that unlike other PLC protocols, G3-PLC can communicate across transformers, transmitting the communication signal in a bidirectional way from low voltage lines to medium voltage lines".
According to Navid, this feature alone could save utilities millions of euros in smart metering infrastructure deployment, competing aggressively with wireless solutions. "Typically today on a smart grid, you would find a digital concentrator sitting on the low voltage side of transformers, every 300 meters or so. These data concentrators then use GSM or other wireless communications. So every transformer needs a data concentrator. With G3-PLC, you would only need one data concentrator on the medium voltage side of the transformers to communicate with smart meters over long-distance medium-voltage lines. The technology was tested at distances up to 10km, without repeaters" Navid continues.
So what made it so difficult to implement before?
"One of the main challenges was to have a clean signal that could cross the transformers despite the fact that medium powerlines act as antenna and pick up a lot of noise" answers Navid. "Thanks to our analog expertise, we are able to maintain an excellent signal to noise ratio across an extended grid network".
The G3-PLC Alliance - http://www.G3-PLC.com – was founded last October to support standardization around the G3-PLC specification as an open international standard, enabling developers to seamlessly adapt this next-generation PLC platform. Six months earlier, Maxim was introducing the MAX2992, a PLC modem that pairs with its MAX2991 analog front-end to provide the first fully compliant G3-PLC chipset solution. Several manufacturers already offer ITU-compatible G3-PLC solutions based on this chipset, claims the company.
Visit Maxim Integrated Products at http://www.maxim-ic.com/Smartergrid.
Visit the G3-PLC Alliance at http://www.G3-PLC.com.
This article originally appeared on EE Times Europe.