The green energy revolution is here. With oil prices stuck above $100/barrel, temperatures hitting record highs, and the costs of renewables – particularly solar – dropping fast, the interest in sustainable, efficient power is reaching a tipping point. Yet many challenges lie ahead, both at the grid level and at the building level.
One key challenge is building smart grids that can respond to shifting supply and demand. In addition to enabling greater efficiency, responsive grids are needed to support renewable sources like wind and solar that have fluctuating output levels. The first step to building a smart grid is enabling communications between local producers and consumers – and to do this, system developers need an embedded platform with excellent connectivity, reliability, and security.
To illustrate the importance of connectivity and reliability consider the wind monitoring platform built on Eurotech’s ISIS PC/104 offering (Figure 1). This clever device uses LIDAR to measure wind patterns and optimize windmill performance. The heart of the system is an Intel® Atom™ processor that makes connectivity easy thanks to its runs industry stand readily satisfies the connectivity requirement through its broad support for networking and communications stacks. Meanwhile, the hardware’s ability to tolerate temperatures from -40°C to +50°C provide reliability even for wind farms in arctic snows or desert heat.
Figure 1. Natural Power’s ZeprhIR 300 Wind Lidar is based on an Intel® Atom™ processor.
Another good example comes from Norco, which offers a panel PC for wind power monitoring (Figure 2). As explained in their white paper, this PC can be used to gather performance data from a field of windmills and communicate back to a central server. The panel PC is designed for rugged operation, with an operating range of -30°C to +75°C and a protection grade of IP65.
Figure 2. The Norco PPC-3112.
Eurotech and Norco are just two members of the Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance with solutions for the energy market. With over 200 members, the Alliance provides a wide range of optimized hardware, software, tools, and services designed in close collaboration with Intel. Many of these solutions employ cloud computing and machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. These topics deserve their own blog – and indeed I recently posted a blog covering these topics and related Alliance solutions.
That’s a good place to leave our discussion of connectivity and reliability and move on to security. Wind River recently tackled that topic in its article Securing smart grid devices. In short, secure hypervisors and Intel® Virtualization Technology (Intel® VT) let you separate the communications stack, hardening your devices again unintended access. Of course, the communications stack is just one element that needs securing. For a more comprehensive look at this topic, I recommend Wind River’s review of security best practices and my recent overview of security technologies.
So how can we extend the smart grid into individual homes and businesses? It turns out that the M2M technology we mentioned earlier will play a major role. The basic idea is to deploy connected sensors – such as smart outlets, door sensors, and cameras – throughout the building. By analyzing the data gathered from these systems, a power management system can determine how the facilities are being used and adjust power strategies accordingly. As a simple example, a home could detect (or be told) that its residents were leaving for the day and power off items like the television and water heater.
Kontron recently introduced an M2M kit that can be used to develop building automation systems. National Taiwan University recently posted a detailed presentation on how you can deploy such system for home automation – I highly recommend reading it. (See Figure 3 for a preview, as well as the short video of Kontron’s home automation demo I included in my recent Best of ESC blog.) I also recommend checking out the article Touch-Screen Automation, Simplified by M31 S.p.A.
Figure 3. The NTU lab.
The links I’ve listed here only scratch the surface of what the Alliance has to offer. For more on extending the Internet to embedded devices, see intel.com/go/embedded-connectivity.
Kontron is a Premier member of the Intel® Embedded Alliance. Eurotech, Norco, and Wind River are Associate members of the Alliance.
Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor), Intel® Embedded Alliance
Editor-In-Chief, Embedded Innovator magazine
Follow me on Twitter: @kentonwilliston