Submitted by Qualcomm Inc.
The utility industry is in the midst of a transition that is driven by decarbonization, decentralization, digitalization, and the need to harden grid infrastructure to make it more resilient to natural disasters.
Last year, customers across the US saw a sharp increase in the price of electricity — 8 percent on average, but as high as 15 percent in California, Hawaii, New York, and Illinois.1 Making energy more affordable is a timely and considerable challenge.
These challenges are forcing utilities to make tough choices in allocating their resources to competing priorities in grid reliability and resiliency, energy sustainability, and affordability. Qualcomm Technologies, alongside industry-leading ecosystem partners like Gridspertise and others, is working to modernize the power grid and address these often-competing objectives.
The growing need for smarter, more resilient, and more affordable utilities infrastructure is clear. In a recent presentation to several utility analysts, Qualcomm Technologies Senior Director, Business Development, Energy and Utilities Digitalization, Dr. Faramarz Maghsoodlou shared how Qualcomm Technologies’ innovations are powering the smart grid and ushering utilities into the digital era. He addressed not only the state of energy utilities but also highlighted three key areas of opportunity where the company’s solutions can make an impact.
Decentralizing the grid
Faramarz explained that the way we managed the grid in the past has traditionally been a centralized control that dispatched generation to balance the load according to changes in demand. We need to shift this philosophy and think about how to monitor and control potentially many millions of smart loads and distributed resources as solar and wind power increase. This decentralization is going to require intelligence at the edge of the grid to be able to monitor and manage resources.
This is where our portfolio of technologies comes in. Our solutions can make a difference across the entire energy value chain — from wind farms and solar farms, to transmission and distribution network and substations, down to next-generation smart meters, are all prime targets for digitalization.
Qualcomm Technologies innovations
While there are many applications across the grid where Qualcomm Technologies’ products can come into play, three areas are highlighted as examples. The first is smart sensors. Historically, the high voltage transmission lines and transmission grid have been the part of the grid that has been heavily instrumented and closely monitored. Now it is possible to extend that visibility into the distribution, medium voltage, and low voltage grid as well. There is an opportunity for large scale deployment of sensors in the distribution grid to collect and process data at the edge of the network in real time, while using cellular networks to communicate to a cloud service to leverage the information from these sensors for local and grid-wide situational awareness.
Traditionally, sensors are deployed in simple devices with frequent collection of data, but the data processing is mostly done in the cloud. It is time to do better than that. New smart sensors, in addition to collecting data, will be capable of on-device data processing. When utilizing Qualcomm Technologies solutions, these low-power, cellular connected sensors are ideal for deployment across the grid.
Second, there’s opportunity for next-generation smart meters powered by Qualcomm Technologies' solutions, which go beyond measuring consumption. The meter can now be an intelligent gateway, whereby utilities can analyze the consumption of electricity behind the meter using load disaggregation techniques based on high frequency sampling of the current to identify and detect signatures of different types of loads. This will enable utilities to more effectively forecast loads and understand how they change over time. Additionally, smart meters can be used by utilities to detect anomalies in the grid upstream. For example, if a number of meters in a row show a sudden spike in current or a drop in voltage, that could signal a potential problem with a transformer upstream.
Grid edge gateways
And third, Qualcomm Technologies’ products have great potential to be deployed as grid edge gateways. This is a broad category of equipment where more powerful processor chipsets from Qualcomm Technologies would be a large advantage. In the grid, substations are a primary location for these types of gateways. But there’s an even greater opportunity for putting gateways in large commercial and industrial facilities to coordinate and manage the interactivity between the load and the grid, to co-optimize supply and demand.
A collaborative effort
Next-generation smart meters, smart sensors, and edge gateways are just the beginning of the digital transformation that is enabled by Qualcomm Technologies. As the new energy economy emerges, digitalization is a powerful tool to drive decarbonization of the value chain, improve grid resiliency, and safeguard against oil and gas price shocks in the future. Qualcomm Technologies is proudly at the forefront of innovation, providing companies with the tools they need to manage the complexities that come with the digitalization of the grid.
This work would not be possible without valuable industry partners like Gridspertise, which is working to make power grids smarter and more sustainable. Utilizing Qualcomm Technologies innovations, Gridspertise created the QEd - Quantum Edge Device, a powerful tool to increase the resiliency of power grids. By powering the QEd with an advanced Qualcomm IoT solution with an Octa-Core ARM 64-bit processor, the QEd supports connectivity, including 5G and fiber optic, along with leading edge compute, AI, and security capabilities. All of this yields a powerful device that is better equipped to meet the evolving needs of distribution grids.
The utility industry needs leading connectivity and computing solutions to transform the power grid into the connected, sustainable grid of the future. Qualcomm Technologies offers the robust solutions required to make this digital transformation happen — and we look forward to continuing our collaborative efforts to make the future grid more sustainable and resilient.
1. Get Ready for Another Energy Price Spike: High Electric Bills,” New York Times, May 5, 2022
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