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Outlook 2013: Powering change

Global energy consumption is expected to grow by about 70% in the next 25 years – driven by rising standards of living in developing countries. Faced with this growth, consumers and commerce alike are looking to the electronics industry and demanding that technology get smarter in terms of how it can contribute to shifting loads and saving energy.

There are three key elements to enabling 'smart energy' which need to be addressed: the smart grid, including load balancing and supporting demand and frequency response; smart meters; and, lastly, the connected appliances and systems (including sensors) that are so important for the Internet of Things.

However, the international picture for smart energy is somewhat confusing, not only in terms of standards, but also in terminology, definitions and law. Health and privacy concerns keep rearing their heads and the economics of implementing new technologies are still being ironed out.

But analysts seem to agree the worldwide market for smart meters is on a steep upward trajectory. Pike Research (1) forecasts that the world market for smart meters will peak at 100million units in 2015. The growth of the industry will be characterised by regional waves of adoption, beginning with the North American market, which will peak in 2012, followed by a peak in Asia Pacific in 2015 and Europe in 2017. By 2020, the global installed base will reach 963m smart meters.

The installation of smart meters is just the tip of the iceberg as far as the smart grid is concerned. Major utilities throughout the world are either actively engaged in, or planning, the enormous task of connecting their grid assets – such as substations, capacitor banks and transformers – to their head end systems for improved monitoring, control and automation. This requires the installation of sensors, controls and other grid optimisation solutions such as synchrophasors and advanced reclosers.

According to ABI Research (2), transmission and distribution (T&D) investments are expected to account for the lion's share of smart grid investments until 2017. On a cumulative basis, almost $278billion will have been invested globally in T&D infrastructure by this time, compared to $48bn for the purchase of smart meters. This illustrates that opportunities in the smart grid go way beyond those of the advanced metering infrastructure.

In terms of what is possible, technology is forging ahead and ARM, with its low power, energy efficient design philosophy, is well placed in this market. Meters, for example, are expected to operate for up to 20 years on one battery. Low power ARM Cortex-M0 and Cortex-M0+ processor based MCUs are enabling the deployment of long battery life systems and also make possible the use of energy harvesting technology for some smart energy solutions.

Microcontrollers based on ARM processors feature in most new smart meter designs around the world and in all geographies. Even China, where the domestic smart meter market is very cost sensitive, is now moving towards meters based on 32bit processors.

Useful innovation in smart energy is being seen across the board, from start ups to major players, and ARM's technology is heavily involved. Here are a few examples.

Start up innovation

* Milliwatts to Megawatts. While ARM processors set the benchmark for low power operation, there's one area where the benefits are measured in megawatts. Amantys is bringing a different ARM processor based approach to a historically analogue world – that of medium and high voltage power.

The company has introduced a family of insulated gate bipolar transistor (IGBT) module drivers that give insight from the heart of power switching. Powered by a Cortex-M3 processor, the drivers give vital control for more efficient and reliable power switching.

Meanwhile, Amantys Power Insight allows machines to deliver vital performance metrics to the cloud – the 'things' which the internet can connect.

* Streetlight revolution. While many local councils are considering turning off one in every 10 streetlights to save money, the Enlight system can deliver savings of up to 45% by improving the efficiency of street lights. If the 8m streetlamps in the UK were all to use EnLight technology, this would save the UK 1m tonne of CO2 each year. Each ARM processor based EnLight ballast provides a soft start to increase lamp life and has an overall energy efficiency of 95%, compared to 50 to 60% for traditional magnetic versions. The ability to dim lights in 1% increments means they can be turned down after midnight – rather than turned off.

The ballast is also communications enabled, so all lights in each district – which could be a street or a whole village – can be managed from a central location.

Industry innovation

* Motors. Almost 50% of electricity is consumed by a motor of some description and motors are the biggest consumers in industry. Some 42% of all electricity generated is consumed by industry and two thirds of this is consumed by electric motors. This means industrial electric motors consume 28% of all energy generated.

These motors often run continuously and can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds a year to run. As many were designed for a fixed load or speed – despite the fact that load or speed are often not constant – they are not as efficient as they could be. Advanced intelligent motor control systems, based on ARM Cortex-M3 processors, can optimise each motor dynamically for demand and reduce energy use by an estimated 10%.

* Sensors. Monitoring is key to understanding how energy is used and where efficiencies can be made. This requires sensors and machines to report constantly what they are doing so that intelligent decisions can be made. This is a key element of the smart grid and ARM is enabling the industry to produce sensors that cost a few pounds, but which have a five to ten year battery life and talk wirelessly to the internet.

Future developments

The Internet of Things presents big opportunities for smart energy and ARM is heavily involved with smart motor development from industrial applications to domestic appliances, with sensors, with electric vehicles and with more efficient use of energy and natural resources.

In terms of the Smart Grid, transmission and distribution will come to the fore and, in terms of software, there will clearly be a boom in data management and security systems.

IMS Research's recent survey (3) says: "It is not only the Government and utility companies that are looking at 'smart' energy management solutions. A range of other companies, from relatively small start ups to major telecommunications companies, are expected to become more active in improving UK households' green credentials – for a nice fee. For example, they can offer consumers a way to manage their electricity consumption online, letting them remotely control devices such as thermostats and even individual plug sockets."

The effects of innovative and useful technology need to be maximised and, if that is to happen, it is essential to gain the trust of the end user. But the consumer needs the right tools in order to become 'smart' – tools based around the Internet of Things and smart home energy management systems. Only then will the consumer see the benefits and feel 'in control'; only then will truly smart energy systems be possible.

(1) Pike Research. Smart Meters report. May 2012
(2) ABI Research Smart Grids study. May 2012
(3) IMS Research. The World Market for Smart Home Energy Management Systems – 2012 Edition. March 2012

ARM

ARM designs the technology that is at the heart of advanced digital products, ranging from wireless, networking and consumer entertainment solutions to imaging, automotive, security and storage devices. ARM's comprehensive product offering includes RISC microprocessors, graphics processors, video engines, enabling software, cell libraries, embedded memories, high speed connectivity products, peripherals and development tools. Combined with comprehensive design services, training, support and maintenance, and the company's broad Partner community, they provide a total system solution that offers a fast, reliable path to market for leading electronics companies.

Author
Gary Atkinson, Director of Embedded Marketing, ARM

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