Felipe Gómez Cuba | Researcher
Vigo, december 12th, 2012 – Even though they have overcome the mistrusts of years ago, renewable energies are still not ready to outcompete traditional energy sources. However, today it is rare the month when wind power does not break its own record in Spanish energy contribution, solar panels are mandatory in new buildings, car manufacturers are launching new electric and hybrid cars, and an (arguably) liberalized energy market has even fostered the birth of a couple of players that only sell green energy.
There is no doubt that society has finally boarded the green energy train. In 2010, EU project Europe2020 set the target of reducing greenhouse gas by 20%, increasing the renewable component in final energy consumption by 20%, and increasing energy efficiency by an additional 20% by 2020. Challenges on the two first aspects are intrinsically related to energy generation and alternative resources, which the public knows pretty well, but that is not the case of energy efficiency.
The key to understand energy efficiency is that there is no cheaper and cleaner energy than saved energy: no matter how clean our sources are, we can even do better if we avoid to waste energy unnecessarily in the first place. Furthermore, changing our habits can also lead to a cleaner world: It is not the same to connect a device when there are wind and sunlight than when there are not and all energy is produced by coal plants. The key to efficiency is then to detect what is necessary and what is not, and what can be postponed and what cannot; in other words, the energy efficiency problem is an information problem.
This is the foundation of the Smart Grid, we must blend the electric grid and the recent communications revolution to build a grid that is intelligent and capable of predicting the behavior of connected devices. Such electric grid will be able to notify users when they can save money or reduce carbon emissions by simple actions, and will allow producers to minimize their costs by generating energy according to accurately measured demands.
One of the key technologies for achieving these goals is that of Smart Meters: intelligent digital devices that replace legacy mechanical electricity counters. They can measure different consumption parameters with the finest granularity, transmit them via data networks, and accept remote management. Grid operators have recently commenced to replace meters in Spain.
On the other hand, the communication network that connects household smart meters to the distribution network is termed Last Mile. Nowadays, most neighborhoods have pre-existing access infrastructures built by Internet service providers (ADSL, cable, FTTH, etc…), with high capillarity and capacity. Leasing a fraction of this capacity is appealing for Smart Grid data transmission, but smart meter traffic has different needs to those of user traffic, and distinctions should be established. During project MEFISTO, Gradiant has assessed the coexistence of the two services in a common network, and developed practical policies for traffic engineering and QoS differentiation in this context. Our earlier results have been presented in the IEEE Innovative Smart Grid Technologies conference 2012 (Berlin), and the more recent ones will be published in a future issue of the international scientific journal IEEE Transactions on Smart Grid.