As residential solar panels become more common, there is growing demand for batteries that can store power for later consumption. Home batteries can also save consumers money by drawing grid power when rates are low, and supplying the home when rates are high. And they can help homeowners and utilities alike deal with supply and demand fluctuations.
To meet these goals, however, a battery needs a smart controller. In this post, I take a look at home batteries, their function in the grid, and a battery controller designed by Axiomtek, an Associate member of the Intel® Internet of Things Solutions Alliance. I also look at the advantages of the processor inside it—the Intel® Atom™ processor E3815.
Advantages of Home Batteries:
As more electric utilities base their rates on time-of-use, a home battery enables consumers to buy when electricity is cheapest. If you need to run a major appliance, such as an air conditioner, or charge an electric vehicle during peak hours, you can draw first on power bought cheap and stored in a home battery. In times of blackouts, a home battery can take over much like a gasoline-powered portable generator and keep essentials such as your refrigerator, lights, and home security system running.
Have solar panels? A home battery can store excess electricity generated at home. Home batteries could also play an important role in helping smooth out the big drops in midday electricity demand when solar is generating the most and the ramp-up in evening demand when solar power is not available and people return home from work. Home energy storage could also help mitigate grid voltage sags and surges that can occur when clouds pass over neighborhoods with lots of rooftop solar panels.
The Need for Smart Home Batteries in the Smart Grid
As part of the smart grid, homes will need smart meters to monitor energy consumption, onsite grid-connected power generation, battery storage, and electric vehicles. At first glance, home batteries may simply seem like an onsite storage device. Once thousands are linked to the grid, they will form a fleet of energy assets that can play a big role in helping make more efficient and effective use of the power grid.
At home and in coordination with the grid, battery charging and discharging cycles will need scheduling to ensure there is sufficient capacity to satisfy the loads in the home while minimizing the cost of electricity used. Furthermore, this schedule will need to adapt to the changing needs of the homeowner based on the season, as well as optimization of battery capacity and efficiency. Such optimizations will require running algorithms that enable providers to predict usage patterns and optimize battery operation for real-time electricity rates and loads. To do all that requires digital controls and real-time communications systems—in other words, an Internet of Things (IoT) controller.
The Axiomtek ICO300:
Working with a major battery manufacturer, Axiomtek has developed just such an IoT battery controller. The Axiomtek ICO300 is a robust, fanless embedded system that connects to the Internet through wired Ethernet, WiFi, or a cellular interface (Figure 1).
Figure 1. The Axiomtek ICO300 s a robust DIN-rail, fanless unit with options for 3G/GPS or WiFi connectivity.
Integrators can program the device to perform a number of tasks:
- Charge control. To prevent overcharging or overheating, the Axiomtek ICO300 can monitor battery temperature, automatically shut down the charging process when necessary, and resume it when the battery is cool enough to start back up.
- Data collection and communication. The Axiomtek ICO300 can collect and communicate real-time information and alerts on current battery charge and health statistics such as total battery throughput, total cycles, depth-of-discharge distribution, average and maximum/minimum operating temperature, percentage of life spent at high temperature and full charge, and calendar age. It can also provide information on usage patterns (by hour, week, month, season). This information can be selectively communicated to the homeowner, battery manufacturer, battery lesser (if the battery is leased), and service provider. In houses with home automation controls, the Axiomtek ICO300 can connect to the main controller to provide current battery status, service hours left at current load, and alerts in the event of malfunction.
- Data analysis. As part of the grid, the Axiomtek ICO300 can provide specific data for big data analytics in the cloud. Utilities can process this information in real-time to help stabilize the grid. Battery manufacturers can use this data to study in-field performance for future improvements.
- Energy optimization. With the right algorithms, the Axiomtek ICO300 can perform machine learning based on customer usage patterns, automating the discharge of stored energy to optimize power cost savings.
The Axiomtek ICO300 benefits from Axiomtek’s extensive experience in designing rugged Ethernet- and WiFi-enabled products to fulfill different requirements in energy automation (Figure 2). The unit’s fanless and cableless design features an extruded aluminum and heavy-duty steel case with a DIN-rail for easy mounting. The unit offers two isolated 10/100/1000Mbps Ethernet ports, four COM ports (RS-232/422/485), a choice of 3G/GPRS or WiFi, CompactFlash and SATA SSD (or HDD), and wide range 12V - 24V DC input. Also included are LED indicators for easy status checks and a RTC battery function for easy recovery.
Figure 2. The Axiomtek ICO300 supports relevant standards in a fanless, low power design featuring the latest generation of Intel® Atom™ processors.
Under the Hood
Initial plans call for the battery manufacturer to use the Axiomtek ICO300 for charge control and data collection and communication. By basing the Axiomtek ICO300 on the Intel Atom processor E3815, Axiomtek provides a unit with the low-power performance, connectivity, and ruggedness to handle these tasks and additional responsibilities in the future.
Up to 3x faster than its predecessors with up to 3x better energy efficiency, the Intel Atom processor E3815 is a sub-10-watt system on chip (SoC) that won’t drain the battery it’s designed to monitor. The processor’s industrial temperature range (-40°C to 110°C) makes it perfect for placement in uninsulated basements and garages, or even under the eaves of a house. With a memory capacity of up to 4GB DDR3L-1066 MHz, the processor supports plenty of RAM for running the operating system and applications.
The processor’s high degree of integration with industry-standard high-bandwidth interfaces such as PCI Express* Gen 2.0, Hi-speed USB 2.0, and USB 3.0 ensure expansion and storage capabilities wherever used in the grid. What’s more, use of Intel® processors ensures compatibility with a broad range of popular OSs, BIOSs, and software, simplifying software migration, connectivity, and data exchange with other devices—an important element in the design of smart grids.
A Battery in Every Home
Currently, there’s some tension regarding home batteries between utilities and companies providing renewal home energy sources like solar and wind. Utilities fear home batteries will allow consumers to “cut the cord.” But a number of studies show that home batteries will enable greater synergy in managing the grid. When batteries are optimized across the grid, they will be an important tool in managing electricity where and when it is needed most, lowering costs for utilities and ratepayers. By giving these batteries intelligent controllers like the Axiomtek ICO300, we will all be able to do more working together than we can working alone.
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Solutions in this blog:
Axiomtek is an Associate member of the Intel® Internet of Things Solutions Alliance.
Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor), Intel® Internet of Things Solutions Alliance
Associate Editor, Embedded Innovator magazine