Wednesday, June 4, 2014

MegaWatt Needs Smarter Megabit/s

What do we need? Huge countries need many MWatt (unit of power) to survive. To get the power whenever we want to use it, we need more “Smart Mbit/s” (“smart” data transfer rate in Mega bit per second). That means: more communicating devices … maybe tens of Millions in some time down the road. What do 1,000 MegaWatt (= 1 GW) and 1,000 Mbit/s (= 1 Gbit/s) have in common? These are huge numbers! And more: We need them both in the near future! The crucial issue is here: One needs the other. Zero GW means Zero Gbit/s and Zero Gbit/s means Zero GW.

Yes, you got it! The two are becoming increasingly interdependent!

There is (mainly) ONE medium to carry power: wires. There are hundreds or even thousands of media to communicate information! Guess you could not count them all. In order to keep the cost for the future power delivery system reasonably low, we could and should think of preventing the proliferation of communication systems. Guess you agree. But: Which solutions are worth to use? No doubt: IEC 61850, IEC 60870-5-104, DNP3, Modbus, … are those that would do a good job!

I would be very happy to have as many communication systems as we have power delivery systems: DC 24V, DC 48V, 3 phase AC 110V/60Hz, 3 phase AC 240V/50 Hz, … and a few more.

Clark Gellings (one of the world’s leading experts on the electricity system, ERPI Palo Alto) talked in a podcast about “The Future of the Power Grid”. He talks about crucial aspects of the future power systems. Key issues (from my point of view) are summarized in the following three points:

“So what are a few of the things that will have to happen between now and 50 years from now to make your vision of the grid a reality?

Clark Gellings’ answer:
Well, first, we’re going to need communications standards that allow devices to talk to one another, so that we don’t have the problem we have now. For example, in buildings, the electronics that are being used have as many as 28 different communications architectures. And so one building technology that might control some new thermal storage unit you have may not be able to talk to another device in that building.

Number two, the computer system that would control these millions of nodes in any given region of the United States, they don’t exist. I mean, we can control tens of thousands of nodes, and we do now, but we’re going to need to control millions of nodes. So that’s another area of development.

And thirdly, technology. For example, power electronics to fully be able to control, in a very fluid way, the power systems, even to the point of doing things like having the system self-heal, or taking action so as to mitigate from an outage that it sees, even before necessarily the outage has occurred.”

… sounds very expensive!? Not that much … listen to Clark Gellings.

Click HERE to listen to the podcast, find a link to download the mp3, and read the content.

Anyway, the 28 different communication architectures in the building automation he mentions are not so bad - compared to the factory automation with hundreds of solutions!


why not use the IEC 61158 (solutions)? Because it has too many!


IEC 61850 is about to unify most of them (at least at the near-process level where we find the Millions of signals to be shared between Millions of smart devices). And to provide smarter mechanisms to share information.

I hope we can convert more Mbit/s into “Smart Mbit/s”: using them in a smart way. Using smart communication mechanisms (like IEC 61850) will require less bandwidth and smart power systems will need less MW.

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