The future of utilities begins with long-range, low-power technology

By Rémi Demerlé, Semtech

The need for a smarter, more advanced power grid in the U.S. is growing each day as utility companies struggle to meet operating demands associated with the increase in homes and businesses reliant on power. The International Energy Agency expects global energy demand to increase 37% by 2040, which will further strain our grid. With organizations looking to ramp up energy efficiency and reduce waste to be more sustainable, new Internet of Things (IoT) applications including smart metering leveraging long-range, low-power capabilities can provide a cost-effective solution.

Utilities that add sensors with low power wireless networks to their existing command and control system will be able to aggregate and analyze more data to improve organizational performance ensuring always-on monitoring of grid assets at lower costs. The LoRaWAN open specification is a low power, wide area networking (LPWAN) standard based on Semtech’s LoRa devices that we believe is an ideal offering for smart grids of tomorrow.

Why LoRaWAN is the Ideal Network for Utilities

To become truly smart, utilities must be able to collect data on various points of the grid infrastructure until the end point of delivery where consumption can be measured. This in turn, gives utilities the ability to predict usage patterns for better management of demand and supply. Connectivity is key to making use of data in real time and remains the top challenge with our current grid system which struggles to provide efficient, reliable transmission and distribution of power to homes and businesses. As the world population steadily increases, bandwidth will become more strained as will data loads and resources.

The challenges experienced by current grids could be resolved through the implementation of IoT-enabled long range, low power LoRa devices and the LoRaWAN standard. Traditional options such as hardwired connections, cellular networks and satellite connectivity are more complex and costly to deploy, and they lack interoperability and sufficient coverage, particularly indoors or in far remote areas. Low-power offerings are easy to deploy, cost-effective and can leverage batteries that can last decades. It’s this combination that delivers extremely long range access with deep underground and indoor penetration supporting utilities of all types.

Going Live with Smart Utilities

Global electricity demand is expected to grow close to 5% in 2021. Despite the push to reduce fossil fuels and shift to renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar power, electricity demand has rebounded following the pandemic and fossil fuel emissions are rising. The addition of renewable energy to the grid and the global increase in demand with more and more electrical vehicles creates immediate challenges. With this rise, utilities are requiring more accurate data every 15 or 30 minutes from end-users to enable demand side flexibility with adapted energy production to market demand.

The electricity industry faces complexities because it must integrate data from end-users and various distribution companies. In addition to the existing SCADA and other legacy communication system, the new long-range, low-power technologies bring a greater flexibility and scalability to provide wide-area coverage making easy to connect both smart meters and IoT-sensors on the same network. Since it operates with lower power and bandwidth efficiency over a larger area, less infrastructure and network equipment are needed, allowing electricity companies to receive and analyze data for a lower cost of ownership.

Long-range, Low-power Smart Meters in the Field

Vision Metering, LLC (Vision) is a New York-based electrical manufacturing company, with an expansive LoRaWAN footprint across key markets in the U.S. and Latin America. Vision helps its customers install and go live on their own low power, long range LoRaWAN network. Each deployment includes plug and play tools to manage the customers’ systems; therefore, drastically lowering, and in some cases completely avoiding, costly third-party connectivity contracts. Currently, Vision Metering has deployed more than 25,000 smart meters and obtains 98% of successful daily meter readings.

Ferry County Washington Public Utility District No.1 believes it will save more than $20,000 in 2021 alone by eliminating the 100-mile round trip transportation costs to read the electric meters of remote customers in the Cascades through the adoption of LoRa devices. By allowing District No. 1 to regularly have remote access and monitoring of its meters, the users it’s powering will witness more regular, immediate responses when errors may occur, in addition to savings on his or her utility bill. 

In Switzerland, Elvexys provides a new end-to-end solution for monitoring power grid substation, providing a quicker response time to identify and locate the short circuits when they occur. The solution is non-intrusive, less complex and faster to deploy compared to alternate ones.

Finally, Cloud Energy, an IoT solution provider that developed and deployed a network running on the LoRaWAN standard for a wireless solar power system installed on facility rooftops across Vietnam. Cloud Energy’s wireless solar power system provides comprehensive, accurate and independent data management from inverters, electricity meters and sensors to inform site owners. According to Cloud Energy, its customers are witnessing more than 30% savings on initial investment for the monitoring system.

The Future of Utilities Begins with Long Range, Low Power Technology

Utilities keep demanding open-standard connectivity technologies to benefit from the disruption of the IoT. The future at their door is to mutualize the same network for multiple IoT applications including smart metering, leak detection, plus remote control and monitoring of production or distribution assets. Long range, low power connectivity technologies are the future of utilities as they provide a cost-effective, reliable and secure wireless technology needed to meet not only electric sector demands in a sustainable manner that will ultimately protect the health and safety of our planet and citizens.

About the Author

Helping companies connect things with wireless connectivity and enjoy the benefits of digital transformation have been continuous focuses of Rémi Demerlé throughout his 22 years in the ICT industry. Today, as marketing director for the smart utilities market at Semtech, Rémi continues to evangelize and promote LoRa Technology for the benefit of the global community. Rémi drives the promotion of LoRa Technology to sustain its development in the utility vertical, and leads the utilities workgroup of the LoRa Alliance.

Prior to joining Semtech, Mr. Demerlé held various business development, executive and consulting positions for Telenor, Renesas, Sierra Wireless, Hewlett Packard, and Wavestone, accumulating experience leading marketing and business development initiatives for the Internet of Things in fleet logistics, smart metering and car telematics applications. Rémi Demerlé has a Master of Science degree in Electronics, Networks and Telecommunications from the National Institute of Polytechnique from Grenoble (INPG) in France.

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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com.

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