Technical Article

The Challenges of Applying the IoT to the Smart Grid

October 09, 2021 by Anushree Ramanath

Read on to learn more about the requirements for using IoT in smart grid and the challenges of applying IoT in smart grid.

Smart grids coordinate the needs and capabilities of all generators, grid operators, end-users, and electricity market stakeholders to cooperate with all parts of the system as efficiently as possible. This also helps in minimizing costs and environmental impacts while maximizing system reliability, resilience, and stability. A network of physical objects contains embedded technology to communicate and sense or interact with their internal states or the external environment.

In general, “smart city” applications are vast and include everything from smart city lighting, energy management, and intelligent traffic management to water treatment and waste management [1]. Smart meters enable demand response that allows home and business owners to monitor real-time pricing information to adjust their energy usage accordingly. Smart grids can detect energy spikes and equipment failure while preventing power outages and routing power to those in need instantaneously [2].

What is a Smart Grid?

A smart grid is an electricity network that uses digital and other advanced technologies to monitor and manage the transportation of electricity from generation sources to meet the varying electricity demands of end-users [3]. From a technical perspective, the smart grid can be divided into three major systems - smart infrastructure, smart management, and smart protection systems. The main prerequisites for improving the energy supply management are the separation of local markets, the emergence of active consumers, increasing competition from local energy trading platforms, a global strategy to reduce energy consumption, and improving the quality of energy consumers in cities. A sample illustration of the smart grid architecture is shown in Figure 1 [3].

Figure 1. Smart grid architecture [3]. Image used courtesy of  Salih Ergut

The smart electric grid is a complex end-to-end system composed of multiple sub-power systems interconnected through multiple protocols that contain multiple layers of technologies. The priority for the growth of smart grids in which most progress can be anticipated can be ordered as modernization of main and distributive networks along with the introduction of technological components of smart grid. This is followed by integrating dispersed generation and renewable energy sources in the power system [3]. The third direction is the introduction of communication infrastructure for consumers.


Combining the IoT and the Smart Grid

The need for integrating IoT with the smart grid is justified based on the advantages it has to offer. However, the implementation of the same is not straightforward. There are several challenges at multiple levels, including but not limited to technological, social, and economic constraints. Some of these challenges need to be addressed in future research endeavors. We need to factor in the scenarios where IoT devices work under extreme conditions and in diverse environments. These could be extreme temperatures, exposure to electromagnetic waves, or high voltages. Irrespective of the external conditions, reliability, compatibility, and performance cannot be compromised.

Energy harvesting techniques need to be considered as several IoT devices and sensors operate on batteries. These devices are critical to the system as they support sensing, monitoring and decision-making. IoT devices are known to suffer from storage and computation limitations. Also, due to resource constraints and limited capabilities, it is essential to compress and aggregate the critical data. It is equally important to support necessary communication protocols so that transferring data from smart meters to the central system is guaranteed. The performance of the entire smart grid is governed by key system parameters like delay and packet loss caused by congestion. It is necessary to minimize delay, optimize network design and minimize the number of connections to each gateway.


Communication and Data Security within the Smart Grid

A smart grid typically comprises a host of gateways and IoT devices that possess different specifications and resources. Interoperability between these devices is critical to exchange useful information. This can be achieved using IP-based networks and supporting different communication protocols and architectures. Communication should be secure to protect against internet-related vulnerabilities and possible security breaches. It is also important to secure consumer-specific private data and prevent any chances of misuse by using trust management techniques, including authentication, authorization, data integrity, maintaining confidentiality, and detecting identity [4].


Final Thoughts

The design of a smart grid should be efficient enough to store and process a huge amount of collected data as devices create big data that consumes a lot of energy and other resources. This could end up being a serious bottleneck. There is no unified standard for IoT devices in a smart grid which may lead to security, reliability, and interoperability issues, thus demanding unified standardization efforts.


Key references:

1. What Is the Smart Grid and How Is It Enabled by IoT?

2. Building the Smart Grid: IoT in Energy Management and Monitoring

3. Dombrovskyi et. al., Internet of Things for Smart Energy Grid, 2019

4. Alireza, Internet of Things in Smart Grid: Architecture, Applications, Services, Key Technologies, and Challenges, 2019


Featured image used courtesy of Digi