Cloud, Edge, IoT: What’s running the next Smart Grid?

|March 16, 2017 0
Image courtesy Boaz Yiftach at freedigitalphotos
Electric grids are supposed to cut transmission and distribution losses, derive higher efficiency, reduce losses, integrate with newer sources of energy, but how?

Prasanna Kumar

INDIA: The electricity grid as we know is one of the most advanced technologies powering our homes and businesses for more than a century now. With our urban population growing at an exponential pace and the need for alternate sources of energy rising, electric grids of the future would look very different. They are supposed to derive higher efficiency, reduce losses, integrate with newer sources of energy such as wind, solar, etc. and most importantly become unstoppable.

Also, according to Cisco Internet Business Solution Group, there will be 50 billion things connected to the internet by 2020 and India is estimated to install 130 million smart meters by 2021 by Asia power. India is ranked first in the global transmission and distribution losses and to reduce these losses, we need to have a smarter grid with more information to act upon. In a vast country like India where the renewable energy resources are abundant, power generation from these sources is growing at a steady rate and the integration of these into the grid is a challenge in itself.

To augment capabilities of the existing grid, smart grids add a two way communication network to continuously sense, analyze, pre-empt and act upon potential uncertainties. A smart grid of this scale, would include unimaginable amounts of data and processing, which would prove challenging with our existing setups. Deploying smart grid technologies presents an opportunity to address the problems of an aging energy infrastructure that needs to be upgraded. It is a step towards an energy efficient system bringing increased awareness to consumers about the relation between electricity usage of the consumer and utility company providing electricity.

Power generation units in a smart grid consists of many devices (things) such as transformers, breakers, switches, meters, relays, IEDs, capacitor banks, voltage regulators, cameras, etc. M2M communication of these objects from grid to households can be achieved using IoT, which is the core technology in smart gird, and which is the foundation for realizing intelligence.

With an installed capacity currently at 315.42 GW as on 28 February 2017, power generation is expected to grow rapidly. By 2022, new and renewable energy will contribute to almost 20 per cent to India’s entire power generation. Currently grid integrated solar generated power is only 10 per cent but it is estimated to contribute almost 57 per cent in the 175GW expected target generation by 2022. This infers the increase in the number of connected devices and the huge amounts of data generated.

IOT based smart grid consists of a lot of smart objects which connects the household and the utility companies and generate a lot of data. Managing the data generated i.e. transferring, storing and analyzing such huge amounts of data will require a data centre and data analytics software implementation capabilities which may result in a huge maintenance cost. Cloud computing is a solution to the IOT based smart grid.

A major feature which the cloud system with edge offers is the scalability factor which is not the case with the current storage setup (SAN or NAS). Using proprietary storage arrays costs a lot. The total cost of ownership is high because it includes the bundle of hardware and proprietary software along with maintenance contract with the company. These systems use expensive hardware and are aimed at providing resiliency and providing their customers with a ‘highly available’ storage backend. Critical applications such as smart grid cannot rely on systems where there is chance of failure.

Edge computing enables technologies allowing computation to be performed closer to the data source .For example, a smartphone or a Tablet can act as an Edge device between the physical data and cloud. The principle of Edge is that computing should happen at the proximity of the data source.

Consider an autonomous vehicle as an example. If 1TB data is generated by the car every second and it requires real-time processing for the vehicle to make correct decisions. Such a vast amount of data cannot be sent to the cloud for processing, since the response time would be so long that the current network bandwidth and reliability would be challenged for its capability of supporting large number of vehicles in one area. In such a case, the data needs to be processed, filtered and correlated at the edge for shorter response time, more efficient processing and smaller network pressure

In the case of Fuel Cell Generator, the fuel cell systems are clean and reliable sources of backup power providing a viable alternative to generator sets and battery strings. These act as the saviors in cell sites that are susceptible to severe weather natural disaster and poor electric grid reliability. In the process of deploying Fuel Cell Generators (FCG – a DC power generator used to ensure all telecom equipment remain at full operation) across multiple telecom sites, and integrating the deployments to an asset monitoring platform, the FCGs send the operational data to a dedicated wireless Edge device and the edge further communicates to the central monitoring and control station.

Although currently the edge communicates over cellular, this is being migrated to use local wireless provider’s network. From an asset-monitoring platform standpoint, the data from the fuel cells will be used for regular status updates, remote sensing of parameters, event triggers, push set points, send traps etc.

Some of the major benefits that cloud and edge computing will play in the coming days are:

• With sufficient focus on development of technologies for ensuring the security aspects of cloud computing, the IOT based smart-grids integrated with edge computing have the potential to provide significant benefits.

• Improved transmission efficiency, consumer awareness of energy consumption and ease of monitoring and control of energy usage, time of energy usage etc. will help reduce costs both for the consumer and for the utility companies.

• The cloud computing-based solution makes the deployment of smart grid technologies more economical as well as more reliable.

• Cloud computing-based smart grid technologies also have the potential ease of deployment which means reduced infrastructure costs and improved economic development prospects.

(Prasanna Kumar is from Research and Innovation at Altimetrik. Views expressed here are of the author and CyberMedia does not necessarily endorse them.)