The Internet of Intelligent Things – Intelligence at the Edge
Individual homes and businesses can now viably produce as well as consume energy. The “Internet of Energy” or “Energy IoT” is an emerging vertical use case for Internet of Things (IoT) technology. A secure, intelligent gateway at the network edge will make each site capable of distilling valuable information from large volumes of measured data and bring economic and environmental benefit to prosumers – the new generation of producers and consumers.
Energy IoT and Prosumers
Excess produced energy is most commonly used to offset imported energy. It can also be sold back to the grid at a reduced rate if this is allowed by the electricity utility. A recent trend is that it can also be stored for later use or sale. Storage options have matured with products such as the Tesla Powerwall, as well as batteries from LG and other companies, available for purchase by domestic consumers. Energy can be produced by a variety of means including wind and solar PV but also through hybrid combined heat and power (CHP) energy systems. PV is probably the most viable domestic option and the cost of PV is consistently declining. Surprisingly, in cloud-covered Ireland we can average 2.4 hours of sunlight per day for PV generation. Micro CHP or domestic CHP units are now available too and make efficient use of heat energy that would otherwise be wasted. Producing electricity locally has of course several advantages such as elimination of transmission losses (the national grid consumes 30% of electricity produced in Ireland). It can lower the maximum import requirement which lowers monthly fixed tariffs. It lowers the overall peak demand from the grid when combined with smart infrastructure to participate in load shedding or load scheduling. When we consider that 10% of the cost of electricity supply infrastructure goes to providing the last 1% of electricity then this saving becomes significant. And finally, locally produced energy from renewable sources will of course also be greener and cheaper than utility generated energy from fossil fuels.
IoT gateway technology at the edge, in a home our business, brings many new capabilities to both utilities and prosumers. IoT enables the analytics of more variables than ever before, including energy consumed by location, demography, business and occupation. Data can be analysed quickly and converted into “actionable insights” to offer competitive advantages.
IoT can provide real-time data streams for energy usage and excess capacity available. It can use this data to optimally manage which energy source electrical loads should use. It can schedule loads to use cheap electricity and, in a process referred to as load shedding, it can schedule loads to consume any excess electricity that is available. Using scalable IoT technology, this optimisation can be performed at a local or national level.
An intelligent IoT gateway at the edge provides horizontal integration by combining energy generation systems such as heating, solar or wind, which may be from different vendors. It enables the gathering of usage patterns, distribution of production and, where necessary, the control of pricing. It can use weather forecasts, and sunrise/sunset times as inputs into load scheduling. It can monitor and optimise battery charge cycles, charging when energy is cheap and discharging when expensive. It can provide real-time control inputs, including PID control, even if internet connectivity is unavailable. An IoT gateway can act as a bridge to combine multi-vendor generation and management systems that use a variety of protocols, providing translation from MODBUS, CAN, BACnet, ZigBee, LoRa, etc. It can aggregate and normalise data from many sources and act as a future proof interface to changing infrastructure. Limits and filters can be set on data inputs to generate alarms or to discard outliers. Most importantly, it can pre-process and filter data before transfer of information to management systems and users. IoT gateways transfer “information not data” as well as providing for remote device management, operations and maintenance via web interfaces and smart phone apps.
Smarter Systems with IoT
Smart grids spread the intelligence of energy distribution and control systems from some central core to peripheral systems. Smart energy meters have M2M or IoT connectivity and speak standard protocol such as M-Bus. Smart neighbourhoods are urban scenario with connected gateways. The key to success is the demonstration of the benefits that producers, consumers, and users can obtain from intelligent and efficient management of energy distribution. Advice can be available in real-time for optimising energy costs. Other benefits are to provide asset management and fault tolerance, control, demand management, system configuration and support and integration of distributed resources.
Securing a meter against physical tampering with is very important. Securing a device connected to the internet is many times more important since an attack can come from anywhere in the world. Already we have seen several reports of smart meters and other connected devices being compromised. Attacking a connected device may be done simply to thwart billing systems or it may be more ominous. Several vulnerabilities have already been published in protocols such as M-Bus. Requests have been made for government oversight of IoT devices as networks of compromised devices may be used as attack vehicles themselves possibly even being used by political groups to inflict widespread outages or other damage. The best defence is to use a secure IoT gateway with a robust embedded operating system that supports strong encryption and is software-upgradeable. Security breaches that are infeasible today will become possible or even likely in the future so having secure, over-the-air upgrade capability is mandatory. Encryption of data-in-transmit and data-at-rest is vital to prevent tampering or unauthorised access to sensitive data. Use of strong, hardware based, client authentication is vital to prevent cloning. All of these require a capable IoT gateway at the edge to protect more vulnerable and less capable equipment behind it.
Distributed Energy Markets
A smart gateway can use real-time data to make decisions about the current “value” of units of electricity. For example, if the battery charge level is high and high winds are forecast or if it is early in the day and sun is forecast then the gateway could decide energy is cheap and can be sold at a low price. Or if the battery charge is low and the wind is calm and it is night time it might decide to buy at a higher price. Connected gateways could register live bids and asks at one or more energy exchange marketplaces. These marketplaces could then match buyer to sellers and balance demand on the grid and unit pricing in real-time. Units bought or sold become contracts to be delivered with a defined window (e.g. one hour). Installations without an IoT gateway would have to pay a fixed price for import and receive a fixed price for exported units. These fixed prices would naturally be less attractive than the dynamic pricing and so would encourage more and more installations to join the exchange. Utilities could also participate, offering for example, hydro power in winter time at a low price or fossil fuel driven energy at a perpetually higher price. These exchanges would fully enable the concept of a smart grid and the rise of the prosumers will distribute the source of energy.
Intelligent edge gateway devices in an IoT network are a critical component to enabling the energy IoT. Intelligent gateways provide a multitude of key functions from data mining and analytics to fault monitoring to real-time load scheduling, all done securely and reliably. Going forward, gateways will also play a critical role in enabling intelligent energy systems and be an active component in the smart grid and decentralised production of electrical energy.
Emutex is a leader in embedded software engineering and specialises in enabling embedded systems to connect customer solutions to the Internet of Things (IoT). Commonly referred to as the “intelligence in the edge”, its core product is ubiworx™, an IoT gateway software framework that embedded systems use to bridge sensors and actuators at the edge to data storage and data analytics services in the cloud. Combining ubiworx with its professional services capability, Emutex works closely with its customers to build bespoke IoT solutions for remote monitoring and control applications in a variety of sectors including energy, environmental, industrial and vending.