Smart Grid Communication: PLC and ZigBee on Programmable DSP

Back in 2011, the term ‘smart grid’ was already a frequently used buzzword, but not much more than that. Very early on, the benefits of a smart grid were clear and widely accepted. In 2007, the United States Department of Energy stated its vision for the use of “digital technology to improve reliability, resiliency, flexibility, and efficiency (both economic and energy) of the electric delivery system”. With the ever-growing demand for energy across the globe, efficient use of resources is a necessity, and waste is simply unacceptable.  Once we identified the urgency for a smart grid solution that was efficient, reliable, and flexible, it was clear that a programmable DSP approach was the best way to go. That’s what incentivized us to initiate a consortium to tackle the challenges of the smart grid. Here’s the story of transforming a ‘smart’ idea into a tangible reality.

smart metering

How much energy can be saved with smart metering, real-time monitoring, and advanced network management?

Forming a Consortium for a Synergic Solution

Together with the conclusion that the best solution for a smart grid would include a programmable DSP, it was also clear that many other components would be required. Electric utility companies are, generally, large, conservative corporations. To penetrate their market would mean offering a holistic solution that did not leave any loose ends. To accomplish this, many specialists in different fields would be needed. Various components would have to communicate with the processors, each with its own interface and requirements. To arrive at the best solution would therefore require a collaboration with many different specialists: academic leaders in communication and synchronization algorithms, energy experts, radio and modem engineers, and other software and hardware professionals.

With this in mind, we applied to the MAGNET Program, in the office of the Chief Scientist of the Ministry of Economics in Israel to start a consortium of leading companies and academic institutions to research and develop a fitting solution. The result was ISG, the Israeli Smart Grid Consortium. Due to the successful outcomes since its launch in 2011, the consortium has been granted a second phase of research and is still active today. The consortium now consists of such members as the Israeli Electric Company (IEC), Motorola Solution, Satec, PowerCom, ECI and more.

Communication on the smart grid: wireline PLC and wireless ZigBee

Smart grid is a very wide term that consists of multiple layers. The more dominant layer is the infrastructure, which is maintained by electric utility companies. This facet of the smart grid is mainly concerned with metering, monitoring, and management. For these applications, the most efficient solution is to transfer the information on the existing power line. This is called Power-line Communication (PLC). PLC is divided into two groups: broadband and narrowband. Broadband PLC is used for high data rate transfers, like internet and streaming. For metering and network management, a much more efficient, low-power protocol is necessary, in order to avoid added energy costs. That’s where narrowband PLC is best used. It requires very little energy, and travels on the existing power lines.

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 In-house smart grids could significantly reduce utility bills and prevent wasted energy

In addition to the power-line infrastructure, in-house applications are also a very important aspect of the smart grid. As homes become smarter and more efficient, with products like Nest Thermostat, saving energy is becoming a big issue. For example, understanding how your energy consumption will be affected by adjusting the temperature by a couple of degrees, or being notified if you left the lights on or some other appliance running when nobody’s home, can lead to drastic reductions in bills. This facet of the smart grid is much more oriented to the end user. Therefore, it requires a wireless communication protocol, which can be accessed by a handheld device, like a smartphone, tablet, or remote control. For these use cases, ZigBee is the go-to wireless language.

One of the exciting results of the consortium for us at CEVA, is that we were able to develop solutions for both of these protocols. Based on our CEVA-TeakLite-4 DSP core, with the communication expertise of SGA Innovations, we achieved fully functional modems for both PLC and ZigBee. By enhancing the DSP with hardware accelerators integrated with the core, an optimal balance is achieved between the software and hardware. This delivers the benefits of both options: the flexibility and future-proof benefits of software with the low-power and high performance of hardware. Both the PHY and MAC layers are implemented in firmware, so the same DSP core can perform both functions and allow maximum reuse of resources. These modems can also be easily generalized for almost any IoT application, enabling endless opportunities.

Video demonstrating a G3 PLC modem, connecting smart meter to concentrator device via wireline for measuring energy consumption in the smart home environment.

The smart grid will keep getting smarter

Being a part of the consortium, and seeing bold new ideas become reality through collaboration and innovation was a great experience. It also reveals a glimpse of the future. Each step of the way the grid will become more efficient and less wasteful. New and different challenges are already being taken on, like smart water infrastructure, which requires different technology due to the physical aspects of water, smart gas supply, and so on. The real question is: will the grids be smart enough to reduce the overall demand, and put a stop to the on-going depletion of our resources?

Check out our Solutions

For more information about Smart Grid and Power Line Communication, click here.

To learn about The New CEVA-X, the next generation scalable processor framework targeting the full range of IoT applications, click here.

 

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