Smart utility challenges and the role of LoRa

Bruce Leith

Blog by: Bruce Leith - 23 / Apr / 2019

Utilities industries the world over are facing massive challenges. As the world’s population grows and develops, expecting ever-greater access to energy and resources – and as national and international regulations drive shifts away from fossil fuels to cleaner and more renewable methods of energy production – utilities firms must simultaneously innovate and expand.

Yet the distributed nature of many renewable energy sources – wind farms, solar panels and so on – means that energy firms need to manage a far larger number of assets, spread across wider areas, than ever before. Then, once that energy is generated and distributed, it must power not only homes and businesses, but a wealth of new innovations such electrified transport. Supply and demand must be carefully balanced, always.

These demands are why the Internet of Things (IoT) has had arguably an earlier and more substantive impact in the utilities sector than anywhere else. After all, ask the average consumer about their experiences with the IoT, and you may well find them referencing smart meters before anything else. They are a relatively simple innovation with a big impact, often serving as the first piece of the jigsaw on the road to fully smart cities and critical national infrastructure.

However, there are still questions around the best communication technology for the utilities industry to use for its IoT ecosystems. One that offers a great deal of promise is LoRA.

What is LoRa?

LoRa stands simply for Long Range, and is a patented wireless communication technology held by Semtech. It delivers extremely long range yet low power and therefore relatively low-cost connectivity, making it ideal for Internet of Things (IoT) use cases – and particularly, IoT use cases in the utilities industry. For example…

 

  • Managing distributed assets. A utilities firm investing in renewable energy may have hundreds or thousands of wind turbines or solar panels to monitor and manage. Utilities networks, whether electricity grids, water networks, oil or gas supplies, all cover vast geographical areas and feature numerous assets which need ongoing monitoring and regular maintenance. IoT connectivity, powered by LoRa, can enable far greater automation of these management processes, and a more intelligent, predictive and proactive approach to maintenance.
  • Monitoring utility usage. Understanding the consumption of utilities in different areas and at different times is crucial to taking an intelligent and long-term approach to distribution, including dynamic reassignment of resources at times of high demand. LoRa technology can enable utilities companies to measure consumer usage without checking individual devices manually.
  • Checking for faults, leakages and theft. Digital metering networks both deter theft and also reduce leakage loss thanks to better accuracy. Smart water sensors, for example, have been used to great effect to help companies identify where they are wasting or losing water – and this proactivity simultaneously builds customer loyalty.
  • Outage management. Unplanned utility network failure can be substantially reduced overall, and the response when it does occur substantially improved, with the careful use of monitoring and analytics technologies throughout a utilities ecosystem. Once again, LoRa technology can prove the ideal mixture of low-cost and long-range connectivity to make this happen.

LoRa is not a magical silver bullet for the utilities sector; as Wyld Networksunderlines, there are pros and cons to the technology which need considering. LoRa is non-international and slow, for example. But its ‘low-power, high link-budget method means that there are applications that are difficult or impossible to deploy in any other way’ – such as water metering.

There are plenty of challenges ahead for the utilities industry, but LoRa could go a long way to helping solve them.

 

Topics: IIoT, LoRa, smart utility

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