Smart Grid Technologies and Trends Find Wider Applications
- Nov 9, 2011 1:37 am GMT
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I’m at an international conference in Dalian, China that is focused on ubiquitous networks and the Internet of Things. That makes it all the more ironic that you can’t get WiFi here. We’re talking to eachother, but not to the outside world. The conference topics range from the latest research in radio frequency management to machine to machine (M2M) architecture and infrastructure challenges. What do these topics have to do with the Smart Grid? Everything.
Wireless ubiquitous networks are the communications foundation for the Smart Grid as well as the Internet of Things. Cellular, WiFi, 6LoWPAN and other communications technologies and protocols will enable electricity consuming and producing devices to be remotely monitored and managed, which in turn foster optimized awareness and use of resources. And in the best sense of recycling, many of the early lessons learned about Smart Grid deployments can and should be applied to projects focused in smart cities and the Internet of Things (IoT).
Here are a few observations:
1.The growth of wireless communications will stress existing bandwidth allocations of licensed versus unlicensed spectrum. The latest research is focused on cognitive radio technology, which is part of the nascent 5G or fifth generation of wireless technology, and it could help address spectrum stresses by dynamically allocating unused or underutilized licensed spectrum for temporary unlicensed applications.
Adrian Popescu, a leading researcher of the technology and professor based at Sweden’s Blekinge Institute of Technology, stated that “5G focuses on architectural and networking upgrades to 4G,and one of the key features is pervasive wireless computing and communications. Cognitive radiois a promising technology that helps 5G avoid spectrum constraints and thus achieve the vision ofubiquitous networks.”
The concept of cognitive radio is already actively practiced by drivers in major Chinese cities. Here, lane markings, akin to spectrum allocations, are merely suggestions for placement of vehicles, and driverse fluidly shift lanes to avoid congested intersections, sometimes straddling two lanes to create a newand temporary lane. This style of driving also elegantly illustrates the ideas of very decentralized anddistributed intelligence, with each vehicle performing as an intelligent agent to optimize routing.
That has interesting implications for the Smart Grid and the larger IoT because it could enable applications that need infrequent transmissions of data that may range from just a few data bits toindicate a change to status to bulkier video communications regarding perimeter intrusions or camera-based inspections of remote sites.
2. The rapid increase in communicating sensors and actuators, the transmitters and receivers for devices that consume or produce electricity in Smart Grid applications will have widespread applicationin the IoT. This increase is the result of overall cost reductions and specific improvements in power consumption by sensors and actuators. The vast majority of these devices in an IoT or Smart Grid application would be battery-operated, so improvements in their efficient use of energy means fewer battery changes and greater confidence in their staying power. For instance, sensors can improve the safety of industrial operations and accelerate rescue efforts when resources are equipped with devices that transmit location and environmental data.
3. There is no clear winner between communications standards or protocols like WiFi, 6loWPAN, or ZigBee as the favored mode for M2M networks and the IoT, and there may not be. But if you look at sheer numbers of WiF-enabled devices, estimated to be around 750 million globally, this standard maybe the frontrunner.
Greg Winner, president and CEO of GainSpan, noted that, “with over a billion WiFi devices expected to ship this year alone and the increasing familiarity of consumers and businesses with the technology through their daily use of WiFi-enabled smart phones and PCs, WiFi is the technology ofchoice in residential automation, smart energy, home healthcare and other IoT applications. We see an increasing number of device manufacturers switching from other technologies to WiFi and expect this trend to grow.”
The best solutions will make efficiency a design mantra – efficiency in computing power, efficiencyin costs, efficiency in power consumption for remote monitoring and management, and efficiency in accommodating a wide range of protocols and applications. It is unrealistic to expect that residentialor business users will tolerate frequent battery replacements in devices to support Smart Grid projects,and the same is true for any IoT initiatives.
The Smart Grid reflects the challenges that are confronting the leading technologists and researchers ofa future IoT. There are technology options that will influence the successful business models that willdeliver the bi-directional flow of information and electricity. But the common consensus amongst the international researchers and academics at this conference is that the technology challenges are easy compared to the communications challenges. More on that in my next blog.