According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, renewable energy sources provided 17% of electricity generated in the U.S. during 2017, and the International Energy Agency projects that by 2040, 40% of power usage across the globe will come from renewable energy. These increases in renewable energy reflect a shift in perspective among consumers and energy providers who seek to minimize reliance on limited and unsustainable resources, such as fossil fuels and nuclear power. By integrating renewable energy wind farms, solar panels, and geothermal power plants, the power sector is redefining the energy grid into a clean resource that will support its growing consumer base with sustainable longevity.
While renewable energy sources have the advantage of supplying the globe with inexhaustible and naturally replenishing energy, their spontaneous and uncontrollable nature sets up a significant challenge for utility companies, engineers, and consumers alike. IoT has the ability to stabilize the supply of renewables with a smart grid infrastructure that will, ultimately, lead to a clean, renewable future for the power industry, consumers, and the planet.
Challenges with Renewable Energy
Unlike fossil fuels and nuclear power that have consistently been refined and produced throughout the last century, renewable energy from natural sources like solar rays and wind are not consistently available. In California, for example, increased wind activity during the summer months creates a large opportunity for wind-powered energy production, though production steeply decreases during the winter months of December and January when wind activity dies down, according to MIT Technology Review.
In the past, inconsistencies in wind power required companies like Vattenfall in Germany to frequently engage fossil fuel plants on short notice in order to supplement its electricity supplies during dips in power production―an inefficient and costly practice. Furthermore, the majority of wind, solar, and geothermal energy collection plants are located in remote, rural areas, while the majority of power demand originates in urban centers.
Improvements in energy storage, energy transport, usage monitoring, as well as shifts towards a supply-driven power grid will all be necessary to successfully integrate renewable energy, and the energy sector is accommodating these new challenges of renewable energy with the growing implementation of IoT smart grids.
How IoT and the Smart Grid Help Facilitate Renewable Energy
- Storage Solutions
Energy storage solutions such as industrial-scale lithium batteries and hydrogen from renewable electrolysis can absorb and store renewable energy when it is available in excess. These storage solutions later allocate stored energy during low production phases when demand is higher than supply.
Using hydrogen to store excess power is derived from a process of renewable electrolysis that divides water into its elements, hydrogen and oxygen. Once divided, the hydrogen then becomes the storage medium, containing the energy until demand requires it to be converted back into available electricity. The quality and levels of energy stored in lithium or hydrogen, and the health of their containers can be bolstered by IoT functions that remotely and punctually ensure that the storage systems are functioning properly.
Integrating storage solutions into the power grid will be an important step, though there is additional complexity to address in order to adequately solve the inconsistencies of renewable energy. Systems generating and storing energy in rural areas that supply power to urban cities call for improvements not only in storage, but also in the transfer of energy between locations.
- Electrical Superhighway
With the development of an electrical superhighway, power resources can be transferred efficiently and quickly. The efficient transfer of power is important when shipping energy locally from rural renewable power plants to near-by urban areas with high consumption, and when shipping energy cross-country to balance the distribution within a given timeframe.
For instance, solar power generators in North Dakota may suffer from inconsistencies in sunlight during the winter months, while solar plants in Florida generate at an excess. With a superhighway in place, IoT sensors along these transmission lines can provide real-time data regarding the amount of power available in each region, automate and expedite power shipments, and provide shipping data in order to track valuable information, like duration and quality, that can lead to future improvements of the system.
- User Engagement to the Next Power
The traditional energy grid that was set up over the past century was designed to be demand-oriented and supply ample energy to consumers at any given time. In combination with skyrocketing levels of energy consumption over the past two decades, fluctuating levels of renewable energy sources may not be sustainable in this demand-driven environment. Therefore, the power sector is encouraging a shift towards supply-oriented power consumption that is largely made possible by smart grid infrastructure and IoT. Supply-oriented consumption uses IoT data to better predict the amount of energy consumers actually will need and further employs this data to help users base their consumption on the energy levels available at a given time.
For example, smart grid devices, such as smart power meters installed outside of homes, provide two-way communication between utility providers and consumers. This consistent level of communication makes usage data more readily available, allowing consumers to become more aware and involved with their power usage. Electric utility providers can notify consumers instantly through push notifications when available power from renewable sources undergoes a significant decrease. With these real-time updates from utility companies, customers quickly and remotely can reduce their power demand by adjusting devices and appliances in their home from anywhere.
In-home connected devices, like security system, thermostats, and water sprinkler systems, also can help consumers monitor usage and reduce waste independently of smart meters and smart grid infrastructure. IoT devices can push notifications to advise users on how to restrict power when the appliances are not in use.
Through smart data collection, cluing consumers in on the actionable details of energy cost and supply can help them learn to regulate their power usage in non-invasive ways so as to ultimately shift the power grid from a demand-based to a supply-based system.
Renewing Smart Grid Networks with Aeris
The future of energy is renewable, and with renewable energy comes the need for high-level IoT technology to lay groundwork for the uncontrollable nature of renewable energy sources. Whether you are designing energy-saving smart home devices, smart meters, or converting your city with a smart grid energy storage and transport infrastructure, Aeris can work with you to customize the network that will bring the grid one step closer to a source of sustainable, clean energy.
To learn more about how your IoT network is the ground for renewable energy, contact Aeris today.