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Senin, 04 Juni 2012

What is Smart Grid and How to Implement Smart Metering?

Recently we often encounter “Smart Grid” on TV, Internet or newspaper. The Smart Grid is a global topic right now. Many people predict that the Smart Grid will be developed into a wide infrastructure that is more extensive than the Internet.  We already know the seriousness of the problems caused by environment pollution, energy exhaustion and global warming. We are experiencing the damages caused by natural disasters all over the world. Several countries have been looking for a solution to save the earth, and acknowledge that the “Energy” is the main cause of all problems. Currently, the poorly designed energy grid wastes fuel without fulfilling the energy demand. Someone suggests renewable energy or atomic energy to address the problem, but the efficient production and management of the electricity are the most important factors for solving the problems.

Electric power is produced for consumption. We are repeating the production and consumption cycle every day. Smart Grid is the technology how to manage this cycle.

There are several problems in the current electricity production system. The production efficiency is very low, because a lot of power are not used and wasted. Even though we produce more energy than we required, we can’t use the extra power if we don’t spend them on time. As we can’t estimate the actual demand in real-time, we must produce more. Therefore, we need to have more equipments, facilities and fuels for the production. Coal, petroleum and gas which are used for fuels are the main sources of global warming. 
If we produce electricity according to our needs, and use it effectively, we can reduce the excessive use of the fuel and the emission of CO2. In other words, we can stop the progress of environment pollution and global warming, and slow down the exhaustion of natural resource.
Smart Grid is a technology to effectively administrate the production and management of electricity. We can check the amount of energy supplied and consumed and the status of the electric meters in real time through the Smart Grid.
The interest in Smart Grid is greatly increasing all over the world. US has been establishing the infrastructure for Smart Grid in order to replace the old electric power system and reinforce the energy security since 2001, and this project is expected to be finished by 2030. EPRI, EDF, Hitachi, GE and some major US electric companies are participating in this business.
EU government has been leading the project “Europe Smart Grid Technology Platform” since 2006 and this project will be finished by 2020. Alternative energy and electric power trading between EU countries are main issues of this project. Germany, Italy, England and Spain are actively supporting this project and ABB, Siemens and Shell are participating in this business.  Japan is developing the national project “III (Intelligent, Interactive, Integrate) power system. They are developing new electric power network to be used in the renewable energy system.
The main factor of Smart Grid technology is the convergence of electric power network and IT technology for the real time data communication. The usage of power will be more efficient in the Smart Grid than previous generation grid. Users can use the electric power when its fee is low. For example, you can operate the washing machine at the midnight when others do not use power much, and thus the cost is lower than day time. By monitoring the use of the electricity in real time, the power suppliers can flexibly control electricity production by reducing the surplus and saving the reusable energy. Smart Grid will play a major role in managing all electricity used from home appliances to industrial equipments.

There are many development considerations in Smart Grid. Among them, AMI (Advanced Metering Infrastructure) is being rapidly applied to the market. This system is dedicated to providing users with real time pricing. Users can save up on their electric bill by using the real time pricing system.
Smart meter is the main device for AMI. Smart meter device is being actively developed and commercialized in each country, and its market size is too big to predict. Smart meter is located at the bottom layer of the Smart Grid, and is installed at the client’s site such as home, school, office and factory. According to US government, the market size in USA only is estimated to be worth approximately 10 trillion US dollar.
Smart Grid is two-way communication system for activating the renewable energy system (wind, solar, earth heat and tidal power), motivating users to save energy and improving the efficiency of electric power management. Internet can be one of most important communication tool.
Internet is a necessity in our daily life, but it can also cause serious problems. We already have experienced a lot of side effect from the Internet. The cyber terrorism or hacking can paralyze our information network and also directly take effect on our electric power system.  We will encounter the state of national emergency - traffic congestion, medical incidents, destruction of financing system, increase of crime and etc. The economical damages caused by electricity cutoff will be enormous.
In order to overcome the existing problems on the Internet, we should consider on how to design smart metering device.
The first consideration is security. The Smart Grid is connected to the Internet. Through this connection, Internet hacking or Virus can attack the memory (RAM) of the metering devices. If one device is damaged by an attack, it will be rapidly spread to the whole electric network.
When we design the metering device, we must apply the security technology such as PKI (Public key Interchange) or NAC (Network Access control) and a web based security protocol such as HTTPS.
In addition to this software solution such as PKI, NAC and HTTPs, we also should consider the hardware based solution. High performing computers are also weak against virus or hacking such as DDoS attack. If we can add a hardware block between main CPU and network interface, we can have a perfect security system.
We are expecting a tremendous demand for smart meter devices, because they are installed every home, office, school, factory and etc. Smart Grid is not limited to individual businesses but the network can be extended to national policy and public sector of businesses. Therefore, smart meter devices should be supplied at a low cost to accommodate everybody.
The smart meter system should be optimized, simplified and practical for the production and supplied at a low cost. Internet and security should also be implemented. However, we can’t use a OS (Operating System). In order to operate an OS, the system needs a high performing CPU and a big memory. We can’t make a cost-effective metering device. We need to optimize our platform to support all required functions with a limited MCU and memory resource.
We also have to maximize the system reliability and stability. Software depended system is weak for various problems including security risks. If all functions are implemented by hardware, this system will be the most reliable, but it’s not possible to have such a system.
If the Internet related part is processed and managed by the separate hardware, CPU will not be affected by an attack. Moreover, the CPU has more resources to use since the network processing is offloaded to the dedicated hardware.
In order to implement the Internet connectivity, full technical knowledge and experience of the Internet are required, because there a lot of variables and exceptions according to application environment. Even with any good software based solutions, it takes long time to optimize and test the codes. Therefore, if we can use a market-proven dedicated Internet chipset, we can overcome engineers’ difficulties, and build a reliable and stable system.
The current smart metering platform is very heavy as like mini PC. It is over-specification and expensive. With this platform, we can never prepare for the Smart Grid market. To optimize the system for Smart Grid, we have to adopt the low-cost CPU (16 or 32 bit based) and Internet chip.
Internet chip will enable you to improve the system security by filtering the packets and blocking any distorted or abnormal packets. If software based security protocols (PKI, NAC, HTTPS) are added, the system will be perfect to block any Internet attack.
It is also possible to implement all required functions in the firmware or light-weight embedded OS without using heavy OS. You can have the best optimized hardware platform by reducing the cost.
By processing all Internet functions through hardware logic, Internet chip will enable you to implement Internet connectivity without any specific technical knowledge, and provide more stable and reliable system. 
Internet chip does not mean a simple controller such as MAC or PHY. When this chip is designed to process all TCP/IP protocols and Internet functions, we have advantages over other systems.
WIZnet is a chip vendor who have been developing and supplying the most reliable Internet chip solution for more than 10 years. We can provide the Internet solution to anybody who is preparing for the Smart Grid and Metering market. WIZnet chip has been applied to Google power meter device in US and Europe, but the market is not yet matured. We are developing more competitive chip and system platform targeting the Smart Grid and Metering.
WIZnet is also focusing on home appliances. In the Smart Grid era, home appliances should be also smart to process the data transferred through the Internet. Smart Grid devices are not far away from reality. Anyone can develop the device, and WIZnet will support the development by providing a total solution for smart metering.

Jace Sohn

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