IoT Enables Smart Grid-Renewables Linkage

Renewable energy is rapidly embracing the smart grid, given the specter of utility curtailments as more megawatts of power are added at the residential, commercial and industrial, and utility levels.

First wind, and now solar installations are showing the fastest migration to a computer-based Internet of Things (IoT) as it moves more data from distributed generators to utility substations, says Daniel Liu, the manager of business development for Moxa Americas, based in Brea, Calif.

“We are seeing a boom in IoT for renewables, and it is moving fastest now with solar,” Liu said. “A lot of companies are trying to get the capability built in now, even if they don’t worry about using the data analytics until later.”

He added that utilities are using data centers to monitor residential energy use, so that homeowners can use their smart batteries and smart inverters for peak hour avoidance.

“This is becoming very prevalent,” Liu said.

The information is integrated and analyzed to optimize power resources, reduce costs, increase reliability, and enhance electric power efficiency, Liu pointed out. The data is key to the aggregation of distributed energy generators, and the utilities’ management of the use of the energy.

Along with the utilities, solar aggregators, such as SolarCity, are using data centers to interact with the smart grid and perfect operations and maintenance functions.

Distributed power networks are highly integrated and include power generation, power transmission, and power distribution, with power meters and home appliances, such as refrigerators, TV sets, washing machines, and personal computers also considered part of the network, Moxa documents note.

Moxa sells a line of standard 190-inch rack-housed computers for the renewable energy sector. Their UC8100 series comes in two versions; one is more protected, in a metal case for commercial or utility users. The other is encased in plastic for residential users at a more affordable price.

These computers use a variety of communications channels, including cellular, LAN and WiFi, with residential use primarily through the latter.

“Our sales are strongest in Hawaii and California, where solar penetration is high and grid interface problems have emerged; other similar markets include Arizona, Massachusetts and New York,” Liu said.

The data input can also be carried through several mediums. Residential systems tend to be copper and WiFi based, while utilities tend to use fiber optics to shield noise from other electrical sources.

This information flow benefits both the generator and the utility, saving money for both in the process.

“By optimizing the electric power grid we can get more out of the existing infrastructure without needing to invest a lot of capital in new technology for generation, transmission, and distribution facilities,” Moxa notes. “In fact, by making the grid smart, we can create a completely integrated system, from power generation to power distribution to power use in the household, and to a certain degree, the smart grid concept can get the most out of renewable energy operations by integrating the local micro-electricity grid to replace more traditional power supply sources such as carbon-fueled and nuclear power plants.”

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Charles W. Thurston is a journalist who specializes in renewable energy, from finance to technological processes. He has been active in the industry for over 25 years, living and working in locations ranging from Brazil to Papua New Guinea.

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