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IoT: A key technology for green electricity

by Ariane Elena Fuchs

Solar power, wind energy, micro cogeneration power plants: energy from renewable sources has become indispensable, but it makes power generation and distribution far more complex. How the Internet of Things is helping make energy management sustainable.

It feels like Ground Hog Day yet again – in 2020 it happened on August 22. That was the point when the demand for raw materials exceeded the Earth’s supply and capacity to reproduce these natural resources. All reserves that are consumed from that date on cannot be regenerated in the current year. In other words, humanity is living above its means, consuming around 50 percent more energy than the Earth provides naturally.

To conserve these precious resources and reduce climate-damaging CO2 emissions, the energy we need must come from renewable sources such as wind, sun and water. This is the only way to reduce both greenhouse gases and our fossil fuel use. Fortunately, a start has now been made: In 2019, renewable energies – predominantly from wind and sun – will already cover almost 43 percent of Germany's energy requirements and the trend is rising.

DECENTRALIZING ENERGY PRODUCTION

This also means, however, that the traditional energy management model – a few power plants supplying a lot of consumers – is outdated. After all, the phasing out of large nuclear and coal-fired power plants doesn’t just have consequences for Germany’s CO2 balance. Shifting electricity production to wind, solar and smaller cogeneration plants reverses the previous pattern of energy generation and distribution from a highly centralized to an increasingly decentralized organizational structure. Instead of just a few large power plants sending electricity to the grid, there are now many smaller energy sources such as solar panels and wind turbines. This has made the management of it all – including the optimal distribution of the electricity – far more complex as a result. It’s up to the energy sector to wrangle this challenging transformation. As the country’s energy is becoming more sustainable, it’s also becoming harder to organize, since the energy generated from wind and sun cannot be planned in advance as easily as coal and nuclear power can. What’s more, there are thousands of wind turbines and solar panels making electricity and feeding it into the grid. This has made the management of the power network extremely difficult. In particular, there’s a lack of real-time information about the amount of electricity being generated.

KEY TECHNOLOGY IOT: FROM ENERGY FLOW TO DATA STREAM

This is where the Internet of Things comes into play: IoT can supply exactly this data from every power generator and send it to a central location. Once there, it can be evaluated before ideally enabling the power grid to be controlled automatically. The result is an IoT ecosystem. In order to operate wind farms more efficiently and reliably, a project team is currently developing an IoT-supported system that bundles and processes all relevant parameters and readings at a wind farm. They can then reconstruct the current operating and maintenance status of individual turbines. This information can be used to detect whether certain components are about to wear out and replace them before a turbine fails.

POTENTIAL FOR NEW BUSINESS MODELS

According to a recent Gartner study, the Internet of Things (IoT) is becoming a key technology for monitoring and orchestrating the complex energy and water ecosystem. In addition, consumers want more control over energy prices and more environmentally friendly power products. With the introduction of smart metering, data from so-called prosumers is becoming increasingly important. These energy producing consumers act like operators of the photovoltaic systems on their roofs. IoT sensors are used to collect the necessary power generation information. Although they are only used locally and for specific purposes, they provide energy companies with a lot of data. In order to be able to use the potential of this information for the expansion of renewable energy, it must be combined and evaluated intelligently. According to Gartner, IoT has the potential to change the energy value chain in four key areas: It enables new business models, optimizes asset management, automates operations and digitalizes the entire value chain from energy source to kWh.

ENERGY TRANSITION REQUIRES TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE

Installing smaller power-generating systems will soon no longer pose the greatest challenge for operators. In the near future, coherently linking, integrating and controlling them will be the order of the day. The energy transition is therefore spurring technological change on a grand scale. For example, smart grids will only function properly and increase overall capacity when data on generation, consumption and networks is available in real-time. The Internet of Things enables the necessary fast data processing, even from the smallest consumers and prosumers on the grid. With the help of the Internet of Things, more and more household appliances can communicate with the Internet. These devices are then in turn connected to a smart meter gateway, i.e. a hub for the intelligent management of consumers, producers and storage locations at private households and commercial enterprises. To be able to use the true potential of this information, however, all the data must flow together into a common data platform, so that it can be analyzed intelligently.

FROM INDIVIDUAL APPLICATIONS TO AN ECOSYSTEM

For the transmission of data from the Internet of Things, Germany has national fixed-line and mobile networks available. New technology such as the 5G mobile standard allows data to be securely and reliably transferred to the cloud either directly via the 5G network or a 5G campus networks. Software for data analytics and AI tailored to energy firms are now available – including monitoring, analysis, forecasting and optimization tools. Any analyzed data can be accessed via web browsers and in-house data centers. Taken together, it all provides the energy sector with a comprehensive IoT ecosystem for the future.

Originally posted here.

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