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Author Topic: Can we model the future of energy provisioning after the Internet?  (Read 5018 times)

Offline engrByDayPianstByNight

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I attended a talk today here at Cornell University by Robert Metcalfe, the inventor of the Ethernet. He talked about the concept of Enernet, a concept in which the future of energy generation, distribution, and utility is envisioned to be modeled after today's Internet. For example, it may have a layered structure, similar the Internet OSI protocol stack, and the management of the energy supply may take various approaches, e.g., centralized vs. distributed.

I find this concept fascinating, since I'm not in any energy-related field of study (my background is wireless communications), and never thought of the Internet as a template for another type of infrastructure (Internet is still, in my opinion, not mature enough). I wonder if anybody on this forum may have some thing to say about this concept. Specifically, is there any trend, or some tiny evidence, in the energy sector that seems to validate this Enernet concept? 

Thanks.


 

Offline graham.d

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You can certainly feed electricity back to the grid from your own personal generator (for example if you have a stream flowing through your garden and your own mini hydro system, or have a suitable wind turbine) and get paid for it. It is a bit of a hassle at the moment but I guess the idea would be to expand this concept to allow mixing of numerous  small, intermittent suppliers with the large generating companies. I am not sure whther this is a good analogy to the internet or not.
 

Offline engrByDayPianstByNight

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Yes, thousands of home-owned power generators allow self-sufficient power needs, and they can sell back the surplus to the utilities. I could only imagine that this may be a bit of like a local area network, where the energy generated from a community neighborhood may be pooled to a local collecting station, which may then distribute it either locally or to some other locations.

    Another interesting point Metcalfe made at the talk is he believes that in the future, we'll see an abundance of energy flourishing all over the planet (unlike the energy crunch we're sort of experiencing right now, in oil for example), and we'll really have to think about how to squander all that energy. He used the analogy of bandwidth, which has been expanding and getting cheaper, and predicted that the energy would follow a similar growth trajectory.

    Another question I'd like to raise is: what role could communications (wireless and wireline) play in a future energy infrastructure (e.g., the so-called Smart Grid)?
 

Offline graham.d

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It would need some sort of Command and Control system so I would guess there would need to be a parallel comms network of some sort. I don't envisage the need for a lot of bandwidth for such a system. Systems are already in place to do a part of this job. There is a growing demand from power suppliers to install systems in individual properties to allow non-essential items to be shut-down by them in the event of unexpected high demands elsewhere on the grid. This may seem like a big disadvantage to a householder but there are financial incentives and the need would not arise often, but can avoid a blackout or, worse, a wide area blackout from a cascade failure. It saves the supplier having to provide for a good deal of over-capacity to cope with the very worst case scenarios.

Meter reading is often carried out by wireless, though the systems are surprisingly slow to take off because the cost of manual meter readings has been lowered by getting the householder to do it more or using estimated billings. Wireless systems are most often employed in flats so that usage figures are sent via a narrowband wireless network to a central point and then the information forwarded on via another wireless network or a wireline system to the supplier.
 

Offline engrByDayPianstByNight

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Mmm, interesting. Yes, one idea of Smart Grid is to prod the consumers to be more responsible energy users, i.e., some non-essential household appliances can be turned off until off-peak hours, and the consumer gets charged a lesser rate in return for his/her cooperation. On the other hand, if he/she absolutely needs to use the appilace during the peak hours, then a premium will be imposed. This kind of pricing scheme is a departure from the current one, where we grant full availability of power to consumers any time of the day, with a flat rate. (Ironically, I think this is what wireless networks aim to do: Anytime, Anywhere, Anyone (AAA), but I'm not sure whether the wireless ISPs have worked out some pricing schemes that charge different rates of Internet usage at different times of the day to avoid BW depletion.)

While I agree with most of what you say, I think there may be some areas of the power generation/distribution management where a lot of BW may be needed. For example, the operator of the Smart Grid may require some visualization of the energy usage from various neighborhoods that are far away from each other, and I can sort of see the need to have some multimedia-intensive applications running to generate these visual images (either graphic or even video) and be able to transmit them to the operator (or operators) in real-time.

One of the characteristics that a Smart Grid is supposed to possess is self-healing. I know what they mean by that (e.g., using multiple paths). My question is: is there some experimental implementation that's been done somewhere in the world? I don't expect a large-scale implementation since Smart Grid is still at its infancy. But I'm interested to know some results of any implementation trials that deal with the self-healing aspect of the Smart Grid.

Thanks.

 

Offline Raghavendra

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Smart thinking, we can just imagine
 

Offline graham.d

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I'm not sure if a smart grid has been implemented anywhere, although the "smartness" varies and is generally improving.

As far as the bandwidth is concerned, I think you are right that when all the local information is combined it represents a lot of data. The point I was making is that very little data needs to be recovered from any one source and that all the sources (households, businesses etc) are highly distributed. This means that very low power, low bandwidth wireless systems can be used and the bands extensively re-used. The next level up would need wider bandwidth (a more sophisticted private wireless network or even a public wireless or wireline network) to compile the information for forwarding to a "control" centre for processing and analysis.
 

Offline Raghavendra

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ya u are correct
 

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