They sometimes go by names like “endpoint,” “intelligent device” or “node,” but in practice, any device that has both communication capabilities and onboard computing power can act as a sensor on a distribution network.

Starting from the grid edge and back to the substation, sensors are playing a larger role in managing power quality, reliability and distributed energy resources. They are also a significant part of smart city applications, from street light management to parking.

The most common utility use cases for sensor applications include:

  1. Meters as sensors – the ability of advanced meters to capture and report various voltage and power quality metrics has led to their deployment as sensors throughout the distribution network, especially at strategic areas such as capacitor bank and regulator locations.
  2. Fault Circuit Indicators as sensors – the modern FCI is much more than a “flag” for fault locations. Products like Landis+Gyr’s S610 sensor can provide valuable information about power quality and even monitor bi-directional power flows.
  3. Street light Controllers as sensors – an intelligent photocell sensor added to a street light adds capabilities such as outage detection, health reporting and remote adjustment, as well as metrology functions and adds network access for other sensors used in a smart city environment.

Along with the control capabilities of smart switches and integrated intelligence added to distribution equipment for automation and communication purposes, sensor technology is quickly gaining more value and adding ROI to smart grid network investments.

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