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A smart grid versus smart meters

1st February 2013


Intelligent distributed control applications are extending the smart grid beyond metering. Michael Anderson reports.

The electric grid is facing unprecedented demand and struggling to meet new stresses it was never designed to handle. Increased energy demand, unpredictable generation from renewable sources, volatile energy costs, distributed generation, electric vehicles and environmental concerns are coming together to change the nature of the grid. Many utilities are looking to smart metering and smart grid solutions to help address these challenges.

The smart grid is significantly broader than smart metering. Smart meters are just a single application within the smart grid. A true smart grid goes beyond the meter to provide a broader set of services that increase reliability, survivability and responsiveness of the grid. With a smart grid, utilities can meet next generation demand response challenges, optimize local grid efficiency, predict power outages before they occur and rapidly restore service, and implement other services. Unlike smart meters, a smart grid infrastructure goes beyond billing and metering applications, and provides essential information about the health and status of the grid necessary to implement many diverse smart grid applications.

Transforming the electric grid

Echelon Corporation is leading the worldwide transformation of the electricity grid into a smart, communicating energy network, connecting utilities to their customers, enabling networking of everyday devices, and providing customers with energy aware homes and businesses that react to conditions on the grid.

Echelon's new Echelon Control System (ECoS) is an open and secure application framework, including a software development kit and management tools that enables intelligent distributed control at the edge of the smart grid network. The edge of the grid is also sometimes referred to as the 'last mile' of the distribution grid. It is the critical point where the electricity distribution network connects to customers.

ECoS will run throughout the edge of the grid on Echelon's new Edge Control Node (ECN) 7000 series of open and extensible hardware solutions.

In the ECN 7000, ECoS provides a set of core services, along with built-in ECoS apps, that provide the software infrastructure necessary to support multiple applications running co-operatively to monitor and control devices to implement smart grid functionality.

Echelon's ECoS provides an open and secure application framework for monitoring and controlling devices at the edge of the grid - the critical point where the distribution network connects to customers.

Intelligent distributed control distributes sensing and control through the grid. There is no single point of decision making, and therefore there is no single point of failure. Decisions are made closer to the point of control, for more rapid response time and increased reliability with decreased communications cost. Intelligent distributed control delivers the needed response time, enhances system survivability, increases reliability, and lowers cost.

ECoS is more than an operating system. It is a set of tools and services that provide a framework that makes it easy to develop powerful applications for intelligent distributed control. By way of analogy, ECoS is to the smart grid what Android is to smart phones. Android provides an open and secure software framework, built on Linux, which provides a set of services and supporting tools to simplify development of smart phone apps. ECoS provides an open and secure software framework, built on Linux, which provides a set of services with supporting tools to simplify development of smart grid applications. The ECoS platform consists of four key components; ECoS Control Services, ECos Core Services, System Services, and Built-in ECoS apps.

Just as application frameworks have transformed the smart phone market by creating an explosion of applications and innovation, ECoS can do the same for the smart grid market. The ECoS platform enables utilities and their partners to quickly build 'ECoS apps' that allows utilities to meet next generation demand response challenges, optimise local grid efficiency, predict power outages before they occur, rapidly restore service if an outage occurs, and implement other smart grid services. For example, utilities have minimal warning of outages because they cannot completely monitor the conditions on the grid that can cause these service interruptions. With ECoS and the ECN, utilities have unprecedented visibility at the edge of the grid, so anomalies like voltage fluctuations, power quality and line signal strength can be quickly identified, giving utilities the potential to see where their next outage may strike and proactively take corrective action before it occurs.

ECoS will move the grid beyond centralized reading of meters to a truly open, intelligent and distributed system that can monitor and react to an increasingly dynamic and demanding environment. Even as demand for electricity grows and its supply becomes increasingly distributed, utilities will be able to enhance customer experience through improved reliability, accelerated response times and increased efficiencies.

ECoS provides an open and secure application framework for monitoring and controlling devices at the edge of the grid - the critical point where the distribution network connects to customers. ECoS enables developers to easily build applications, or 'ECoS apps', to make local, autonomous control decisions in near real-time for maximum reliability, survivability and responsiveness.

Utilities are seeing new demands placed on the grid from the increased number of intermittent generation sources, such as wind power, and the introduction of electric vehicles. By distributing intelligent control into the grid and at each distribution transformer, ECoS and the ECN 7000 will raise system reliability and survivability to the next level by eliminating central points of failure and vulnerability. ECoS will deliver the near real-time responses utilities need to increase efficiency, balance energy and usage, and increase control at the edge of the grid. ECoS allows utilities to meet next generation demand response challenges, optimize local grid efficiency, predict power outages before they occur and rapidly restore service, and implement other smart grid services.

Open and extensible

The ECN 7000 series products provide open, published interfaces to allow third parties to develop additional hardware and software options. The interfaces are completely open, meaning that they are available without licensing restrictions.

With these open interfaces, the solution fosters a community of hardware developers creating peripheral cards to connect to the myriad of devices found in the field, as well as software developers creating new and innovative ECoS apps for the smart grid.

The ECN 7000 series includes six expansion slots designed for integrating any type of wired or wireless device or network. Four of the six available expansion slots include an extra layer of RF shielding to provide a quiet RF environment that optimizes the performance of the radio.

So for example, a third party can build an option board and software driver to connect to an advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) network and make AMI data available to ECoS apps.

Echelon's ECoS will run throughout the edge of the grid on the new Edge Control Node (ECN) 7000 series of open and extensible hardware solutions.

Today and the future

Echelon's Networked Energy Services (NES) System - the control networking infrastructure for the smart grid - enables intelligent distributed control applications and devices that deliver maximum reliability, survivability and responsiveness.

Through the ECoS platform, the NES system enables any device, speaking any protocol, connected over any network to be integrated into local decision making and connected securely to enterprise IT systems through virtually any IP network.

The NES System helps utilities compete more effectively, reduce operating costs, provide expanded services and help energy users manage and reduce overall energy use.

Michael Anderson is Senior VP for smart grids, Echelon, San Jose, CA, USA. www.echelon.com.









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