Active Grid


Where Smart Energy Meets Internet of Things

Fortnightly Magazine - October 2016

The utility industry has made great technology strides over the last thirty years. It moved from manual meter reading to automated meter reading. Then it moved to advanced metering infrastructure and today’s digital smart grid.

The digital grid is a great first step in grid modernization. However, in today’s changing landscape, we need a grid that goes beyond just collecting and transporting data for analysis after the fact.

We need an Active Grid.

The Active Grid analyzes data continuously at the edge of the network. In this model, intelligent devices communicate and collaborate directly with each other. They make decisions in real time.

The Active Grid is supported by a network that is both open and secure. It’s resilient and interoperable. The network is capable of connecting everything.

It can connect utility smart meters, distribution sensors and control devices to urban infrastructure. This includes streetlights, traffic sensors, and electric vehicle charging stations. It also includes solar installations, safety sensors and air quality monitors, to name a few.

Most importantly, the Active Grid also connects people to their surroundings. It improves the effort to better manage energy and water and to reduce wasted resources. 

Can’t Afford to Waste Precious Resources

Each year in the U.S. alone, nearly a hundred billion dollars in energy and water is wasted, stolen or otherwise lost. That’s before these resources reach the end user.

It’s largely due to aging infrastructure and delivery inefficiencies. For example, twenty-four billion dollars in electricity transmission and distribution is lost within the system.

Another thirteen billion dollars in treated and pumped water is lost annually. Furthermore, it costs the U.S. two billion per year for natural gas that is unaccounted for and never used.

 The loss of these resources is costly and unsustainable, especially as the global population continues to grow.

Compounding this, as of 2010, more than half of the population lived in urban areas. The migration toward urban centers continues to accelerate today.

Utilities and cities are under increasing pressure to manage resources more effectively. They are also under pressure to utilize new technologies and make the urban environment more livable.

They also need to make the environment sustainable and economically vibrant. These pressures are catalyzing the smart city movement.

There has been a lot of recent momentum produced by innovative technologies designed to improve efficiencies. However, there is still work to do in order to reach the next major turning point.

Imagine what could be achieved if the current modernized grid evolved to be even more dynamic. Visualize a complete solution encompassing electricity, gas and water.

It would have the intelligence to address issues in the field as needed. The technology required to do this exists today.

Time to Rethink Tomorrow’s Grid

Society is moving away from centralized generation and delivery. It’s moving to a more dynamic, distributed collection of micro-grids and two-way power flows. These require real-time synchronization, monitoring and maintenance.

Utility-centered applications such as smart metering often provide the initial impetus for network infrastructure investment. The benefit stream can be broadened significantly. It can be increased at a manageable incremental cost with the right building blocks in place.

The Active Grid brings four key technology building blocks. When applied together, these can redefine what is possible for smart distribution of electricity, water, gas and smart city infrastructure.

First, the Active Grid is built on a unified, scalable, multi-purpose Internet of Things network infrastructure for smart utilities and cities. Once the network is deployed, it is easy to add new devices and applications to the network. This allows for scalability.

Next, the Active Grid utilizes assured connectivity and network reliability. It does this with multiple adaptive communication technologies. These include radio frequency, Power Line Carriers or Wi-Fi and cellular.

They are on the same chipset and in the same edge devices. The devices on the Active Grid intelligently select the most appropriate path, ensuring performance and reliability.

The Active Grid supports an open application ecosystem that encourages development of innovative new distribution system applications. This drives new capabilities when new challenges arise.

With the Active Grid, smart meters are more than metering devices. They are advanced grid sensors, with metering being one of multiple applications.

By embedding the equivalent computing power of a smart phone in every device, meters are able to conduct real-time analysis of data at the edge. This distributed computing platform also provides the ability to run multiple apps on meters and other edge devices. They deliver true distributed intelligence.

This allows the devices to solve problems at the edge of the network as conditions change. A smart meter can communicate directly to a distribution automation control device. It can also communicate to an inverter on a solar panel, or a remote valve control on a gas or water pipeline.

This allows access to real-time data flow using dynamic analytical engines operating throughout the network. Utilities and cities can accelerate and improve decision-making while shortening the time it takes to react to changing grid conditions.

The Internet of Things spans distributed intelligence, machine-to-machine communications, and multi-application network architecture. It also spans cloud computing, data analytics and a new generation of battery-powered edge devices and sensors.

By harnessing this power, utilities can access the information that allows them to interpret consumption patterns. They can quickly identify problems and solutions, and more efficiently allocate resources from the beginning.

In this capacity, the world can reach a new level of productivity and efficiency. It would be unparalleled since the transition of manual to automated meter reading more than three decades ago. It would enable utilities to meet challenges today and tomorrow.

The Active Grid is larger than any one company or any singular technology. It provides an open application. It also provides an interoperable environment enabling third-parties to embed the technology into their devices. They can even develop apps to run on the platform.

To this end, everyone in the industry has an opportunity to work together to create a more resourceful world. We can apply the right technology to approach problems in new ways in this age.

The next generation of smart utility and city infrastructure will be more efficient, more reliable and less wasteful.