How Do Smart Grids Make Smarter Consumers?
Smart grids are energy networks that can automatically monitor energy flows and adjust to changes in energy supply and demand accordingly. When combined with smart metering systems, smart grids reach consumers and suppliers by providing information on real-time consumption. With smart meters, consumers can adapt – in time and volume – to their energy usage to different energy prices throughout the day, saving money on their energy bills by consuming more energy in lower price periods.
It’s important to distinguish between smart grids and utility meters. Traditional electrical meters only measure total consumption, and thus provide no information on when the energy was consumed at each metered site. Smart grid technologies provide a way of measuring site-specific information, allowing utility companies to introduce consumption prices based on the time of day, season and site. On the other hand, consumers can better understand their consumption behavior and plan their budget better by tailoring, moderating and overall better understanding of peak consumption period behaviors versus routine consumption behavior.
In Europe, the common technology used for smart grids and metering are power line carriers (PLC) and general packet radio services (GPRS). In the US, RF MESH solutions are used in approximately 90% of smart grid deployment. The remaining 10% use PLC and GPRS technologies. Is one technology better than the other? What other options are out there? Let’s see:
Power Line Carriers (PLC)
What makes PLC technology attractive to smart grid deployments are their low cost which in turn enables higher deployment margins for utility companies? Scalability is a great issue for PLC, and every additional power point or site poses a challenge. Harsh environments are also a challenge here, and extreme temperatures do take a toll on the overall operability of PLC-based solutions. There is a new PLC standard, referred to as PRIME standard, which offers greater scalability and G3 PLC. This in turn gained global interest by IEEE, ITU and IEC.
A second generation 2-2.5G cellular network-based technology, GPRS utilized spare timeslots in unused TDMA, GSM channels. Its cellular based approach makes it relevant only for locations where cellular infrastructure is available – usually within urban cities or short to mid-range circumference areas from any deployed cellular infrastructure.
LTE – Commonly Known as 4G
4G LTEis a standard for wireless communication of high-speed data for mobile phones and data terminals. It is based on the GSM/EDGE and UMTS/HSPA network technologies, increasing the capacity and speed using a different radio interface together with core network improvements. LTE provides peak downlink rates of 300Mbit/s and peak uplink rates of 75Mbit/s. LTE is the natural upgrade path for carriers with both GSM/UMTS networks and CDMA2000 networks. Since LTE is the technology adopted by most operators worldwide, it’s probably the preferred option for smart grid solutions.