The Smart Grid concept is getting a boost from the Obama administration in the form of (with matching of private sector funds) approximately $8B capital investment over the next three years. The United States Department of Energy is making a number of Smart Grid publications widely available, and the funding attracted by Smart Grid is energizing a number of technology firms positioned to sell into this area.
Among the goals of the Smart Grid concept are the following features of a modernized public electric utility system:
- Self-healing from power disturbance events
- Enabling active participation by consumers in demand response
- Operating resiliently against physical and cyber attack
- Providing power quality for 21st century needs
- Accommodating all generation and storage options
- Enabling new products, services, and markets
- Optimizing assets and operating efficiently
So what does this have to do with networks and IPv6? Well, the implications of the capabilities and services outlined above will depend on monitoring and control of both delivered and consumed power at very intricate levels.
Essentially, what is at play here, is telemetry capabilities from the distribution to end-user appliance level (potentially). Even if we limit the model to telemetry at the residential power meter, the number of networked devices is astronomical.
Ok, so at this point it’s easy to connect the dots. We have a very large number of end-point IP addresses to be introduced onto this control network. Is it possible to use IPv4 addresses with Network Address Translation (NAT)? Possibly so, but it won’t be easy. It would be much easier with IPv6.
So Smart Grid is a natural market enabler for IPv6 adoption, right? Well, there are hurdles. For one thing, utility equipment has not been an early adopter of IPv6. Indeed, even in contemporary data center environments, many newer building management systems are not yet supporting IPv6. So one source of friction is the device technology available for electric utility applications. Many other standards that are in play in this space would also require modification to support IPv6.
There are many forces at play, but Smart Grid is in a position to significantly accelerate proliferation of IPv6.