appliance DESIGN — June 2011
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Why Should OEMs Care About Smart Grid?
Patrick Wetterwald

Smart Grid is not a concept built by electricians for electricians. The challenge behind smart grid is to master energy from production to consumption and its transport in the electric grid. It is in this consumption area where appliance manufacturers have an important and unique role to play.

But first, let’s review the different components of the smart grid:

1. Energy Production

The sources of energy are now not only the big power plants (nuclear, gas or hydraulic), but anyone. Energy can be produced with solar panels, micro combined heat and power (CHP) or windmills, and can be used or injected back into the electric grid.

Renewable energy will become more important in the near future. For example, Germany wants to be 100% based on renewable sources of energy by 2050.

The injection of this energy at the extreme low end of the distribution grid is introducing a level of instability never Seen in this domain. In order to properly manage such instability, energy needs to be measure and closely controlled. Numerous connected sensors and actuators will need to be deployed via an IP communication network to deal with this challenge.

2. Energy Transportation and Distribution

Energy transportation and distribution are basically the grid, which transports the electricity over high, medium and low voltage lines. Some countries are more advanced in the management of the transport and distribution of electricity than others.

Already, different levels of mechanism have been implemented to recover from faults and to automatically reconfigure the distribution grid. Distribution companies have defined a grid topology that permits isolating and restoring electricity transmission, even in case of permanent failures of some lines. Also in this domain, extensive use of new IP sensors And actuators enables (or enhances) this automation.

3. Energy Consumption

One of the main challenges, currently, is the few times where this consumption reaches its peak. In order to absorb these peaks of demand, utilities have to build specific power plants, which are used only for these instances.

This is very costly and usually these power plants are not optimized for CO2 emission, but more for their ability to start producing electricity very quickly. The smart grid is bringing together two concepts: the ability to adapt the production to the demand, and the ability to shift (load shifting) or shed (load shedding) the demand in energy.

The deployment of smart meters by the utilities is a first step toward the automatic measurement of energy consumption, but the granularity is not small enough for efficient demand response applications.

Current Appliances

Appliances need to be designed so that Load shifting and load shedding can be accomplished. In the absence of communicating appliances, the only way to enable these two functions is via the use of electric smart plugs, which allow switching on or off of a device. Some smart plugs also can measure the electric power consumed. Not all appliances can be managed this way, however, and that is the real problem. Modern appliances must include local energy efficiency intelligence.

When optimizing energy efficiency of a product, the device itself is able to reduce and adapt the consumption without negatively impacting the functionality. For example, with a swimming pool pump, a consumer could easily reduce the number of hours per day or shift the time that a pump is working without degrading the quality of water. Additionally, the pump could decrease the speed pump engine to reduce consumption.

With home heating, the optimum way to reduce energy consumption is to reduce the temperature of the house by 1 or 2 degrees during peak hours. With washing machines, motor speed, water temperature and cycle duration all can be modified to optimize energy consumption.

Modern appliances need to be connected With two-way communication path mechanisms in order to: get energy information from producers/retailers about tariff and peak hours; send out energy consumption forecasting for the next cycle, next coming hours or days; and to send out load shedding/ shifting capacity.

Where is the Communication Path?

Currently, there is no standard or there are too many standards developed by commercial companies attempting to preserve their small and fragmented market shares—making many appliances unable to support new services and tariff changes that utilities are planning.

The solution is not too complicated. A layered, future proof architecture is needed and Internet Protocol (IP) can bring OEMs this architecture.

What else do you really need?

.A network reachability or an addressing scheme. Ipv6 offers sufficient address space, routing and auto configuration mechanism.

.An identification mechanism separated from the addressing scheme. This is an area where progress is still required. Should one use an RFID-based solution, the MAC address (there are some issues on the uniqueness), or the well-known “serial number” per industry segment?

.A tested security and privacy framework. With more than 30 years of Internet hardware and software security solutions, end to end IP security has been developed and extensively tested. An OEM just needs to ensure that the right mechanism suitable for the application is being implemented.

This IP-layered architecture also brings the capability to choose the best physical link for deployment. Power line communication (PLC), low-power radio (such as 802.15.4) or Wi-Fi radio are logical choices to connect home appliances. The key to the success of energy efficient appliances and applications is the use of open standards, and Ipv6 architecture is one way forward.
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