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IoT for Sustainability

Dr Anukram Mishra, CTO, Genus Power Infrastructures Ltd

We have been using the natural resources of our planet without giving a thought on their fast depletion rate and possibility of their exhaustion in the next few decades. Sustainability is all about managing such vital resources in such a manner that the precarious balance in nature is preserved and we leave an unending supply for use by our future generations forever. Some examples come readily to mind. In our daily life, we consume energy in the form of electricity and cooking gas. We also use potable water which is also emptying fast.

Lord Kelvin had long ago emphasized the importance of ‘measured values’ without which the knowledge remained uncertain and meagre. His words ring in the mind as the quest for sustainability is given a boost in recent years by fast growing technologies. The Internet of Things (IoT) revolution was made possible by the expansion of the internet protocol (IP) address field from 32 bit to 128 bits. Google trends reveal that IoT had started developing exponentially after 2013. Billions of these IoT devices can now find their presence on the internet. These distributed sensors are providing a phenomenal amount of ‘measured values’ (data) for further analysis so that an essence could be derived and timely actions taken to close the loop. Real time analysis of BIG DATA is done using the modern data science techniques. The commercial use and value of information has increased so much that the data is called the new ‘OIL’ as it is the much wanted core input for many value adding applications in almost all realms. Improvement in energy efficiency, often called the fifth fuel, is one such application which helps the utilities and consumers to become lean by reducing their wasteful indulgence and leakages in the system.

Energy efficiency improvement in green buildings is an interesting challenge. The Sun is the biggest source of energy not only for the earth but for the entire solar system. As we increase the use of solar energy in comparison with fossil fuel, we inch towards sustainability. It is explained below how an intelligent integration of renewable energy in a

green building or green home is made possible by smart meters communicating on IoT. Smart meters measure energy and other electrical parameters including multi-tariff energy consumption according to time of use. Time of use tariff is a common scheme through which demand side management is achieved by utilities. Smart meters also have the additional capability to have 2-way (IoT technology based) communication with the head end system (HES).

The HES is connected with the servers running data analytics. Smart meters also have connect/disconnect relays to cut off or resume the supply to consumers. To enhance the derived value of solar energy, a green building can make use of another smart meter (shown as smart meter 2 in the figure) to control the output of solar inverters. When the utility tariff is high, the inverter can supply energy for the captive requirement of the building and export the surplus to the utility through the utility’s import-export smart meter and earn a good value of contribution to the grid when the availability of power at the utility is low. On the other hand, when the utility tariff is low, and the power availability with the utility is high, the smart meter 2 could be programmed logically to disconnect supplies to the building load so the solar energy could be directed to the battery bank. The stored high density energy in the battery is then used at the time of power outage and also as a supplement during peak tariff hours.

Sustainability goals can only be met when each individual contributes with responsibility and commitment

Personal energy management within the home is also very useful in this context. All the energy guzzling points like the air-conditioners, heaters, geysers can be fitted with innovative energy measurement devices communicating on WiFi using the router in home. The user can be provided invaluable information from the analysis of this vital data on his mobile. This information could be the abnormalities related to preventive maintenance; a bearing about to wear out or a compressor’s gas being leaked or the projected bill based on the consumption pattern and the weather model. Intelligent energy measurement devices can identify an appliance from its power signature and flag an alarm on finding a change.

Gas pipelines are being installed at a large scale in India. Electronic gas meters can also send their consumption data to the server, enabling the utility to plan their supplies with better accuracy and with granularity of interval data. They can also provide useful information to their consumers and also detect leakage in real time.

Potable water is equally a cause of concern. Communicating water meters and remotely operated solenoid valves based on electronic ultrasonic measurement techniques are available. IoT and analytics can play a remarkable part here. In most of the buildings the water supply lines are not separately laid out for each flat. As a result, consumption of water by each resident is not known and there is no accountability or rationing. Leakages can also not be detected when sometimes a closed flat has an inadvertently running tap. With a systematic IoT sensor based water pipeline network in the buildings, we can expect justice and respect, for this life enabling resource, which it deserves.

In a nutshell, sustainability goals can only be met when each individual contributes with responsibility and commitment. Innovative systems are needed which use the power of latest IoT and data- analytics to give the timely and critical information to utility service planners, crews, consumers and also to the machines.

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