Energy Savings across Verticals Using various M2M Technologies

Date:   Wednesday , September 01, 2010

Can you wake up one morning and imagine life without something as simple as your cell phone or e-mail? The future of brands is about people, processes and technology.
In a dynamic global industry where communication is the key to growth, technology trends are inexorably moving towards increased networking, of connecting everything which can be connected. Machine-to-Machine (M2M) technology spells the future; linking people, systems, and devices in new and transforming ways.

Earlier, machines worked in a bubble; controlled, monitored and managed by human operators. With the increased use of automation and sensors, this not only became difficult, but also called for higher efficiency through the networking of these automata. Better networking leads to higher system efficiency and a greater situational awareness for the controller, who has more information available to him. Using M2M, data from devices (sensors for example) can be relayed through a network to a software application that can use this data.

The key components of an M2M system are a group of communication-enabled devices, a communication link between them and a central server, a database for the stored data and appropriate software interfaces for evaluation and monitoring.

The explosion of wireless networks across the world has made it far easier for M2M communication, in terms of power and speed. Communications enabled devices are projected to touch 50 billion devices by 2020. This creates an infinite array of possibilities for connectivity and innumerable applications for them.

A major focus in today’s post-Inconvenient Truth world is energy efficiency. Carbon-neutral and clean technologies are domains with extremely large capital and research funding. Clean tech is not a fad or an altruistic goal though. It makes business sense as well.
M2M enables companies to remotely monitor equipment, identify and take care of any machine break down in the shortest possible time, and increase efficiency of the machines by ensuring that they are working at their optimum. Efficient energy utilization requires detailed and up-to-date information about resource usage, a perfect job for M2M technology. Indeed, the Industry has recognized this, and energy efficient systems are a major thrust area for the M2M domain.

An example of the effectiveness of M2M in delivering efficiency is ‘Smart Grids’. A Smart Grid is an improved electricity supply chain that incorporates intelligence at all levels, from the power plant to your office and home. A Smart Grid uses the existing electricity grid, and adds monitoring, analysis, control, and communication capabilities to maximize efficiency while reducing energy consumption.
Using smart grids, energy consumption can be tracked much more effectively. Wastage and power theft can be tracked and halted. Awareness of loads allows for power to be re-allocated quickly to the places that need it the most. By analyzing the usage, maintenance of grid infrastructure can also be well-planned, this being significant with the imbalance in power demand and supply.

Consumers can monitor consumption and choose energy saving methods such as, using less power hungry equipment, or scheduling their use to off-peak hours, when the grid will be less loaded and the power, cheaper to buy. This leads to huge energy and cost savings, no small achievement at a time when most companies are struggling to reduce their operating costs. The US Department of Energy calculated that modernization of US grids with smart grid capabilities would save between 46 and 117 billion dollars over the next 20 years.

To illustrate, by using M2M technology, a manufacturing company might create a network of smart meters within its facility to measure power usage. The data obtained can be used to identify sources of wastage or excess usage. The heaviest use of power can be scheduled at off-peak hours, when the grid isn’t loaded, and power is cheaper to buy. This is accomplished without any change to the operations of the facility itself, and yet, leads to large savings for both the power generator and user, leading to enormous energy savings across verticals. At a small consumer level, M2M can be used by homes and hotels to automatically shut off lights, or change the air-conditioning temperature to save power.

There are other domains where M2M can usher in energy efficiency. An M2M network can allow linemen to isolate faults in electric networks, by identifying their accurate location, rather than searching the length of the network. Energy efficient lighting networks can be enabled using M2M technology to deliver better efficiency for offices and public places alike.
An example of a specific vertical where M2M is useful for energy saving is cell phone towers, the ubiquitous symbol of the telecom revolution, especially in India. With most areas recording over 100% penetration and new providers entering the market, the focus is on giving the user more bang for the buck, achieved through increased efficiency, greater connectivity and services at lower cost.

This requires that cell phone towers perform to their peak at all times, a significant challenge considering the current energy scenario. The large number of such towers also calls for an integrated network. Thus, there are major areas of monitoring – checking for alerts and faults with the data transmission, such as network congestion, etc, especially for each operator using that tower; tracking and optimizing power usage by the tower and charging each user accordingly, and remotely ensuring that the physical infrastructure of the tower is in good order. This overall health monitoring can lead to substantial operational savings.

The increased intelligence available also allows controllers to plan network and power usage better, and use that data to develop more efficient business practices. Given the increased load on networks with high data rates, crowding of the spectrum and the move towards intelligent resource utilization in 3G and 4G technologies, M2M is slated to play a big role in generating this efficiency.
Various countries are encouraging the growth of M2M technologies. Smart metering is growing in North America in part as the result of the market structure there. M2M services provide a major emerging revenue source for telecom service providers, with revenues estimated at over 20 billion dollars in 2009. In July 2009, Verizon Wireless and Qualcomm announced a JV to provide M2M products. In Europe, France Telecom is the first operator to provide a complete end-to-end M2M solution. It currently has more than 1.1 million M2M users. By September 2009, Japanese KDDI had sold about 2 million M2M communication modules.

The Chinese government set a goal of reducing China’s energy intensity by 20 percent between 2005 and 2010, and provided multi-million dollar subsidies to this end. China is building a Wide Area Monitoring system, and by 2012, plans to have PMU (power management units) sensors at all generators over 300 MW, and substations of 500 kV and above. Since generation and transmission is tightly controlled by the state, standards and compliance is rapid.

In 2007, China Mobile set up its M2M support center in Chongqing for M2M product R&D and platform construction. China Mobile has provided over 3 million M2M terminals mainly to the electricity, transportation and finance industries. As of June 2009, China Mobile had opened M2M services in the country’s 31 provinces, and released five M2M applications. Its next five-year average growth of M2M services is expected to reach 60%. Predictions say, M2M would be China Mobile’s next application on a 100-million-user scale.
A major issue with present day M2M systems is the lack of standardization of interfaces between M2M terminals and sensors/sensor networks, especially of wireless links, leading to providers needing to develop their own standards. Three major Chinese mobile operators are developing different M2M standards.

Standardization will lead to a further explosion in the use of M2M technology, by allowing access to much larger networks, standardized hardware and cost savings through economies of scale leading to cost effective manufacturing of this hardware. However, these are niggles that would be cleared with time.
Governments are willing, the need for efficiency exists, as does the moral push towards it, the market is ready, the areas of application are countless and technology is ripe for use to solve them. M2M is an exciting technology, and is fast proving itself capable of helping the world use its energy resources better by connecting all machines with each other and with us. With M2M, the idea called "Internet-of-Things" is coming to life.
Author is Head - Strategy & Finance, ConnectM