Mesh networks- a multidirectional electrical superhighway

19th March 2024 By: Dimpho Madiba

Mesh networks- a multidirectional electrical superhighway

By Nishandra Baijnath, Systems Architect, Power Systems, Anglophone Africa at Schneider Electric

Today, many power industry stakeholders are faced with mounting requirements for improved grid reliability, resilience, and distribution efficiency. It’s a challenge which requires power service providers to rethink their infrastructure, particularly making the most of smart grid philosophies in their deployments.

Enter mesh networks, which can overcome the limitations of traditional star networks also known as Y networks, providing the best of both radial feeder and ringed topologies to offer redundancy, flexibility, and robustness in power distribution.

Distribution 101

To understand both the relevance and value of mesh networks for electrical distribution, we need to take one step back, unpacking both radial feeders and ringed topologies.

Radial feeder system is a type of electrical distribution system where power flows unidirectionally from a single source (such as a substation) to multiple loads like consumers. Imagine a tree; its “source” is the root, and the branches represents the feeder lines that supply power to various endpoints.

Due to a radial feeders’ unidirectional nature, there is only path which means if there’s a fault or interruption, all downstream loads are affected. 

On the other hand, a ringed topology is type of electrical distribution system where there are two feeders (or more) forming a closed loop or ring. Unlike the radial feeder, a ringed topology provides two paths for power flow. If one feeder fails, the network can be reconfigured so other feeder/s can still supply power to the loads.

Ringed topology is therefore less susceptible to outages – a fault on one part of the ring won’t affect the entire system. 

Mesh networks, unlike a radial feeder or ringed topology, enable multiple power flow which can then include traditional grid power generation and distributed energy resources (DERs) from renewables. 

A mesh network therefore allows for:

Isolation for continuous operations

It is also the abovementioned fault detection which truly set mesh networks apart. In a typically scenario, the system will detect the fault (which can be broken conductor or other equipment failure). 

It will then isolate this fault by, for example, opening a switch or a breaker at specific location which will disconnect the faulted section. The loads - that were initially supplied by the faulted section - are redirected to other available sources. These alternate sources ensure continuity of power supply.

Once the fault is repaired, the system closes to switch or breaker, restoring the original configuration. Mesh networks therefore offer:

At Schneider Electric, our EcoStruxure Microgrid Advisor IoT platform optimises the operations of mesh network and other DERs by leveraging predictive algorithms and real-time data, whilst enhancing performance, optimising energy usage, and supporting energy security. 

This real-time optimisation is achieved through weather data subscription which allows for 24-hour advance forecasting on what renewable energy production is expected. Furthermore, when the scheduled grid outage period is added, the machine learning (ML) algorithms will determine the best way to manage the available energy resources in addition to enhancing the load management based on expected available energy.