5G – what will it bring to the energy sector?

5G should enable the next wave of smart grid and energy efficiency along with other benefits within the energy sector.
Published: Fri 01 Sep 2017

While in many countries 4G LTE is still an emerging technology for communications and has to see widespread deployment, developments are well under way on the next generation 5G.

At this stage 5G is still embryonic: there are no standards yet but testing is building up around the world for a planned launch in 2019/2020.

5G should form the basis for a fully mobile and connected society, or what is often termed the Internet of Things. With anything up to an estimated 50bn connected devices in use by 2020, key requirements are data capacity and speed to handle the ensuing data volume.

According to the Next Generation Mobile Network alliance, 5G should provide data rates ranging from a few tens of Mb/s for mobility applications and for tens of thousands of users in crowded areas up to 1Gb/s for tens of users in indoor locations – almost 10 times faster than LTE. The spectral efficiency also must be significantly enhanced compared with 4G and the latency reduced by at least a factor 10.

Smart grid benefits

What will this bring to the utility sector, with a growing number of devices both within the networks as well as in a distributed resource?

According to a new report from Accenture, 5G technology will help unleash the next wave of smart grid features and efficiency.

By allowing many unconnected, energy consuming devices to be integrated into the grid through low-cost connections, 5G enables these devices to be more accurately monitored to support better forecasting of energy needs.

By connecting these devices using a smart grid, demand side management will be further enhanced to support load balancing, helping reduce electricity peaks and ultimately reduce energy costs.

Capturing this data through 5G connections will further enable larger cities, or even larger jurisdictions, to plan their energy infrastructure spending more efficiently and reduce downtime. For example, by installing smart grid technology, Chattanooga, TN, a medium-sized town, reduced the duration of outages by over 50% during a severe windstorm and saved the utility $1.4m in operational costs for just one storm.

Energy efficiency

Notably, 5G is itself more cost effective and energy efficient than past generations of wireless technology, thus making its own contribution to energy savings, the report points out.

Smart street lighting, a potential first step towards a smart city, would be another beneficiary.

By automatically dimming public lighting when no pedestrians or vehicles are present, smart lighting can save power and reduce light pollution while still keeping neighbourhoods safe.

Smart lighting has begun to be rolled out in cities such as San Diego and Barcelona. Through its system, San Diego should save an estimated $1.9m annually through the installation of these street lights. Across the US, the potential savings from this approach are estimated to be more than $1bn per year.

Smart lighting connected to a city’s broadband network can also monitor local air quality. Adding this level of connectivity to smart LED lighting can also reduce the lighting system’s maintenance costs.

Finally, utilities also can support the deployment of 5G.

5G will be deployed in a small cell format, perhaps as small as a typical shoe box, as a complement to the traditional mobile towers. In order to achieve the necessary density and extent of coverage, utility poles alongside street lights offer an obvious solution.

5G for wind farms

Beyond these general utility and energy sector benefits, 5G offers the opportunity for new services and solutions, such as that under investigation in the EU H2020 supported VirtuWind project.

The aim of VirtuWind is to develop and demonstrate a networking infrastructure based on software defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualisation (NFV) for intra-domain and interdomain scenarios in wind parks.

Secure and efficient operation of wind farms requires participants to have remote access to components such as sensors, actuators and networking devices (e.g. routers).

To make this possible, a wind farm’s local control network connects individual wind turbines to the respective control centre. The local control centre, in turn, connects the local network to company networks or to the internet so that participants can access the farm’s devices and data.

However, such control network structures are complex and costly to install, operate and maintain. Using SDN and NFV should make processes faster and simpler and reduce the amount of hardware needed, reducing both the capital and operational expenditure costs of a control network infrastructure.

The project, one of 19 within the EU’s 5G Public Private Partnership, was selected as a representative use case of industrial networks.

Thus, while it has broader industry application, from the wind energy sector perspective it should assist in achieving cost reductions, which should support a lowering of the cost of wind energy and accelerate further wind farm deployment.

The project is led by Siemens and has another year to run to completion.

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