Smart grids are getting closer and closer to actual implementation in each of our homes, so efficient technologies that lie underneath them have to be invented. So far, the part that takes care of communication between the users and the utilities has been using Wi-Fi, the same technology your laptop uses to connect to the Internet.
The drawback of Wi-Fi is that it was not built for such an application, where speed isn’t by far as important as the actual act of communication, be it at 50 bits per second.
A company called On-Ramp Wireless invented a technology that uses the same frequencies Wi-Fi network cards use, but modulates the signal in such a manner that it doesn’t get distorted by noise, such as the surrounding networks. On the contrary, their Ultra-Link Processing technology can send signals to up to 45 miles and even uses much less power to do that, enabling savings in what concerns both energy and equipment deployed on the field by utilities.
The company tried the Ulta-Link Processing devices in San Diego, where only 35 strategically-located access point were needed to read the data sent by smart electricity meters across a 4,000-square-mile area. Using one of the classic transmission techniques, PG&E needs over 1,000 access points to cover the same area they tested in San Diego.
For those who don’t know yet, the smart grid will enable electricity consumers to also upload electricity they produce with solar panels or wind turbines to the grid, or connect their electric or hybrid vehicles to it. The latter would act as buffers that stabilize the voltage during fluctuations – they either charge or discharge, and the user gets paid for the service.