Electricity North West, the power network operator for the North West of England, turned to Westermo to enhance cybersecurity and reduce the lifecycle costs of a data communications network which supports the electricity distribution network. Westermo industrial networking technology has been used to create a resilient IP-based network that has enabled the implementation of services such as NMS (Network Management Service) and CLASS (Customer Load Active System Services). These support Electricity North West’s goals of improving reliability of supply and creating operational savings that can be passed on to customers.
The IP-based data network connects well over 500 primary substations across a vast geographical area, enabling monitoring and controlling of equipment which reroutes power should problems arise. Previously, a VF Serial-based network offered limited bandwidth, no redundancy and insufficient resilience. A lack of network reliability created high operational costs and resulted in regular faults that affected capital projects supporting Quality of Service programmes.
Westermo Wolverine Ethernet Line Extenders, based on SHDSL communications, enabled the Ethernet network to be created using existing copper cabling. “Replacing the 11,000km of ageing copper cabling with fibre optic infrastructure was unfeasible in terms of budget and timescale," explained Lee Wakefield, Telecoms Transmission Engineer, Electricity North West. “The use of Westermo’s Wolverine Ethernet Line Extenders eliminated the need to replace the cabling and made the project feasible by significantly reducing costs.”
“Almost 1000 Wolverine devices were installed over a two-year period at the primary substations. With both time and engineering resources limited, it was crucial to minimise the number of visits to each site. Westermo’s WeConfig configuration software supported this by enabling the configuration, diagnostics and testing tasks to be performed at a central location. An estimated 2100 engineering hours (300 work days) were saved and this efficiency improvement was critical in enabling the project to be completed on time and to budget. The Westermo technology provides Electricity North West with the capability to monitor and trend the performance of the network connections to the primary substations. This enables potential issues to be identified at an earlier stage and better scheduling of cable maintenance to prevent unexpected network downtime. Better planning reduces the cost of doing the work and enables better use of our internal resources.”
“Using the performance data, we identify areas that are problematic and make a business case for investment in new cabling. Work may be brought forward to enable a new communications cable to be installed sooner,” explained Paul Gornall, Network and Field Operations Manager, Electricity North West. “The result has been an improved communications network, which in turn helps to improve the overall power delivery service.”
The combination of implementing a reliable IP network and, the ability to identify cable issues, has reduced the time spent on callouts maintaining the data network by approximately 2100 working hours a year. This has not only reduced operating costs, but also allows engineers to focus on capital investment improvement projects that contribute towards better quality of service for customers. “The use of Westermo’s WeConfig network configuration tool was a key factor in the success of the project, helping the telecoms team to configure, test and implement network security", explained Gornall. “Having installed the network, the technology has continued to support efficiency savings and plays a vital role in keeping the network secure.”
Network security is enhanced by `locking down’ the configuration settings, changing the factory passwords and blocking all unused ports of the Wolverine devices. The Westermo WeConfig tool simplified this task, ensuring a uniform approach, with consistent steps for every device that removed the possibility of human error. Over 500 working hours would have been required to perform this task, which may not have been feasible, thus WeConfig was essential to maximising network security. WeConfig has enabled firmware updates for groups of installed devices over the network, without the need to visit the substations. The task is performed from the office and when the firmware is being uploaded the engineer is free to do other tasks. This has helped to save around 140 working hours to date.