Communication Breakdown for Utilities

Our utility grid’s communication protocol functions like the post office but will function more like the Internet in the near future.

The utility grid communication protocol currently functions the way the US Post Office delivers mail. Like the central post office, a few central power plants distributing electricity door to door. If I were to mail a letter to my neighbor using the US mail system, the letter would travel a long distance just to get to my neighbor’s house. First it would go in my mailbox waiting to get picked up, then it would get delivered to the central post office, and eventually get delivered back to my street in my neighbor’s mailbox. This is similar to how our current utility grid communicates, even though the electrons flow to the shortest path.

With the rise of the Internet we know there is a better way to distribute information and energy. If we’ve learned anything from the internet, we’ve learned that more connections are better than fewer and a web of communication creates new avenues of innovation.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is pushing this change in grid communication because it requires the network of physical objects to collect and exchange data. Objects like appliances, vehicles, and machines embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity can improve our energy infrastructure. Someday more than just your laptop and cell phone will be connected to the Internet. Thanks to IoT the ability to control those devices will enable building owner to charge or discharge batteries, or shift a building into a low consumption mode. This ability to throttle energy allows the grid to be smarter and more resilient.

The Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (SGIP) is enabling and accelerating grid communication for the Internet of Things. Here is a short 1:30 minute video describing how SPIG sees the future of grid communication:

The utilities have little incentive to better the communication abilities of the grid, even if they did, they do not feel the need to make this change quickly, which leaves room for entrepreneurs to make the changes for them.

SolarCity’s plan for the future of the grid starts with distributed solar equipment with dynamic control systems communicating with its local community to create a more resilient grid.

Here is a short 1:40 minute video describing how SolarCity sees the future of grid communication:

The link below shows more details about SolarCity’s Micro-grid-as-a-service solution.

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