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IoT-enabled power distribution in the age of smart cities

IoT-enabled power distribution in the age of smart cities
It should come as no surprise that power distribution systems could also be under the influence of the Internet of Things soon. For all the parties involved in this industry, this means an urgent need to upgrade their skills and knowledge in this regard.
With the Internet of Things (IoT) increasingly taking over almost everything that has been a part of our daily life for decades, it should come as no surprise that power distribution systems could also be under its influence soon. For all the parties involved in this industry, from systems integrators to designers, engineers, and contractors, this means an urgent need to upgrade their skills and knowledge in this regard.

Recently Schneider Electric highlighted this subject in a blog as it explained how power distribution is moving more and more into the cloud. The change, according to Markus Hirschbold, Marketing Director for Healthcare Solutions at the company, is mainly driven by consumer interest. End customers are becoming more and more aware of the benefits that IoT would bring them, forcing the providers to adopt relevant solutions. From this point of view, there are three main aspects to consider as the industry moves forward.

Safe, reliable power

According to Hirschbold, smarter devices connected over various communications options, including wireless, are making it easier and more affordable to locate metering and monitoring in more places. This has opened a floodgate of new, powerful applications.

“For example, continuous thermal monitoring helps avoid fires by identifying faulty or loose connections,” he said. “Unlike scheduled IR thermography, this solution works on a 24/7 basis, catching thermal anomalies that might otherwise be missed. Similarly, insulation monitoring in hospital operating theatres protects patients by helping operations staff immediately identify and clear ground faults in medical equipment.”

Power operations and management teams can ensure greater control over their systems with data generated from the connected devices spread across an entire power distribution network. Automated alarm systems can inform relevant personnel about potential risks well in advance that could prompt action. In fact, advanced power events analysis is facilitating efforts in this front, providing easier and quicker options to identify root causes.

“Alarms can be quickly categorized, while the direction and propagation of disturbances are visualized on a timeline to help trace their origins,” Hirschbold said. “And as loads and controls become more digitized, they also become more power sensitive. Fortunately, power quality analysis tools are now able to capture and visualize every type of condition, delivering compliance reports with simple pass/fail indicators that make it easy to stay on top of the health of the electrical system.”

Simpler operations and lower costs

One of the most significant developments in the field of energy consumption is the technological advancements in meters. Leveraging the power of cloud-based analytic tools, there are several energy meters now that are extremely accurate and make processes like identifying billing errors and tenant allocation costs easier.

Hirschbold pointed out that the energy performance of different facilities or processes can be accurately compared using benchmarking, normalization, and modeling, helping reveal waste or equipment problems. Detailed energy usage analysis using rich dashboards helps find and prioritize opportunities for conservation efforts, set baselines, then validate post-retrofit savings.

“Smart IoT-enabled equipment is helping maintenance teams transition from a preventative to a predictive approach,” he added. “Embedded intelligence continuously monitors the condition of circuit breakers, UPS systems, PQ mitigation equipment, and batteries. Analytic reporting tracks equipment conditions, predicting remaining lifetime and other indicators. In this way, risk conditions can be caught earlier, and maintenance can be done on an ‘as needed’ basis only, saving time and cost. And for organizations without adequate in-house expertise or resources, cloud-based apps enable remote support from contracted expert services.”

Moving to IoT: what to know

Since the intrusion of IoT is happening on a lot of fronts, coming up with a comprehensive IoT design for power distribution management would seem daunting to SIs and others involved. Customer requirements do play a major role in this, but that doesn’t mean constraints that may be unique to each system shouldn’t be taken into account. Other factors to make note of are cybersecurity, data recording, and processing, timestamp and time synchronization.

“The next step is to ensure the right products are selected to comply with specifications and architectural constraints,” Hirschbold concluded. “Building blocks at each level connect at the facility level for ‘edge control’ applications, as well as to cloud-based analytics and services.”

As countries around the world continue to move towards building smarter cities, IoT-enabled energy management and distribution systems would become more and more critical. Needless to say, power remains a single major component in running anything else and this is perhaps the best point to start innovation.
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