Today, utility companies have to accommodate how and when consumers use their appliances. The result is that peak usage loads are beginning to exceed the available capacity. Utility companies are limited in their options: they can mandate rolling blackouts, commit significant investment in supply resources to meet increasing peak demand, or employ intelligent power usage technology such as the Smart Energy (SE) 2.0 standard.
Part of the smart energy solution is to coordinate the use of appliances either to reduce peak usage or shift usage to non-peak times. The idea is that rather than build new power plants that will only be utilized during peak demand, intelligent management of device usage can enable the country as a whole to better utilize the capacity that is already available.
For example, nearly 60% of energy usage in California during peak summer loads is attributed to air conditioning. Given that most people wouldn’t notice if their A/C were turned off for a short period, overall demand can be reduced by allowing customers to participate in a smart grid demand response program. This could be achieved by effectively raising the set point of a proportion of the A/C units for a short period in exchange for a financial reward. By rotating between customers, this strategy could reduce A/C power usage by as much as a quarter, resulting in an overall power load reduction of 15% (i.e., 60% /4) without a noticeable consumer impact.
For devices that are always plugged in, such as dryers, pool pumps, or electric vehicles, usage can be shifted to non-peak times. With SE 2.0, a dryer turned on in the afternoon when A/C usage is high can wait to start until later in the day when energy loads are down and pricing is lower. Similarly, as electric vehicles become more prevalent, higher loads will be placed on the grid as more and more people come home from work and plug their cars in to recharge. Smart energy technology enables utility companies to stagger when these vehicles are charged, thus spreading out the load over a long period to reduce peak loading.
Customers are already becoming aware of the benefits of smart energy management technology. In addition, smart energy technology enables consumers to participate in intelligent power management in a way that does not negatively impact their lifestyle and, in many cases, does not require any action on their part. For example, drivers don’t care when their electric car is charged, so long as it is ready by morning. More importantly for consumers, smart energy management will substantially lower their electricity bill as well.
Designing Intelligent Products
“Much of the smart energy business is not about inventing something new,” says Mike Bourton, Co-Founder and VP of Business Development for Grid2Home. “Our customers need to be able to take existing products and add a smart energy layer on top.” This is critical for OEMs who, more and more, have most of their product investment in software and cannot afford to change hardware platforms just to support power management standards.
Grid2Home’s SE 2.0 solution enables existing devices to connect to the smart grid and be intelligently managed. Several layers abstract the application from the actual implementation details and offers tremendous flexibility, enabling developers to focus on their application rather than low-level connectivity details. Specifically, Grid2Home’s code will work regardless of the operating systems (OS), connectivity technology (i.e., Wi-Fi, ZigBee®, etc.), or processor in use. Grid2Home has achieved this by designing its code with portability in mind.
This flexibility is extremely important for time-to-market and system reliability. SE code is often provided to OEMs as object code which has been precompiled for their platform. If SE code has to be manually ported to a new processor, this process can take months for the SE vendor to complete and potentially introduces bugs into the system. In addition, modifying the tool chain for the new platform will require time and resources as well. SE vendors who take this approach have limited ability to offer OEMs new platforms given the investment required for each new system configuration. If the processor an OEM’s product is based on is not supported, the code will have to be ported.
“Vendors who have to port their code can only support major platforms which represent large markets for them,” said Bourton. “In contrast, by using IAR Embedded Workbench®, Grid2Home is able to supply the market with one-offs that would otherwise be extremely costly to support.”
Grid2Home’s solution was designed to be seamlessly portable and provides OEMs with code that works on the platform of their choice. To support a new platform requested by a customer, Grid2Home only needs to recompile code using IAR Embedded Workbench. The compiler takes into account the processor, OS, and connectivity technology and immediately creates the required code. In this way, Grid2Home can provide solutions for a wide range of platforms without having to modify their code or require their customers to invest in learning a whole new development toolset.
“We choose to standardize on IAR Embedded Workbench because we wanted to support the widest range of processors with a single tool chain,” said Bourton. “With IAR Systems, we’ve been able to do just that. The result is that we can provide reliable code quickly to our customers. Since neither we nor our customers have to port code, development time is substantially reduced. Designs based on our code are typically completed in 2-4 weeks, not 2-4 months.”