5G – driver of the next generation smart grid

5G could deliver up to 12% saving in energy consumption in UK, O2 report finds.
Published: Mon 23 Apr 2018

The next generation 5G wireless technology is almost upon us. The standards are in place, the first networks are being installed and by 2020, the technology is expected to become widespread commercially available.

With much lower latency, greater capacity and higher speed than the current 4G, and, notably, more power efficient, 5G is seen as the enabler of the Internet of Things. With the ability to handle the volumes of data from widely installed low power, low cost sensors and other connected devices, it should open the way for a plethora of new services built on capabilities such as artificial intelligence, augmented reality and advanced analytics.

5G impact on smart grid

For the energy sector already well advanced with the smart grid and starting to decentralise, 5G comes at just the right juncture to enable its ongoing evolution to meet the emerging challenges of smarter cities, communities and citizens.

Some opportunities and benefits for the next generation smart grid – dubbed the ‘neural grid’ – are identified in a new report from UK mobile provider O2. These include the rapid detection and response to spikes in demand caused for example, by mass charging of electric vehicles (EVs), and the provision of more dynamic energy pricing based on real-time demand.

According to the report, 5G connected smart grids driving dynamic pricing, enabling two-way communication and allowing citizens to choose where they buy their energy could lead to a 12% reduction in household energy use. With UK households currently spending an average of £1,208 on gas and electricity a year, this would save the UK £3.9bn, or £145 per household at today’s prices.

There would also be savings of 6.4m metric tonnes of CO2, the equivalent of taking nearly 1.5m vehicles off the road.

The report also finds that 5G sensors and wireless technology applied to local council infrastructure could save the average city £1.3m in electricity bills through the adoption of smart LED street lighting. Overall savings on energy bills for councils in the UK could be as high as 70%, a total saving of £91m. Further savings in energy and resources could accrue through the deployment of IoT technologies, such as rubbish collection enabled by 5G-connected smart bins, which could save the councils £1.8bn annually.

Other savings identified include a possible £3.4bn annually to the UK economy by mitigating the loss of productivity caused by blackouts and brownouts. By being more responsive to real-time demand and supply fluctuations, smart grids would also support the widescale adoption of EVs, by providing and distributing the extra capacity needed for charging them. This could result in an extra 1.3m EVs on the road by 2025.

A 2016 study for the European Commission estimated that in Europe, smart meters with 5G data capabilities could provide annual benefits of €6.47bn in 2025, rising to €7.37bn in 2030.  

Smart street lights

As an example of a smart lighting project, the report cites Smart Malaga in Spain. O2 parent company Telefónica has been participating in a project since October 2014 to centralise the management of traffic, street lighting and other public services. As part of the project, over 70% of the city’s street lights have been converted to smart, connected LED lamps. This technology has enabled light levels to be adjusted according to season and time of day, while monitoring more effectively for lamp failure, leading to claimed savings of £2.2m on the annual energy bill.

Telefónica also has launched its 5G activities in Spain with initial deployments to take place in Segovia and Talvera de la Reina over the next three years. The aim is to convert the two cities into ‘5G living laboratories’ with the new networks and alongside them, the development of use cases with “concept tests on new services, products, experiences and business models”.

For its part O2 is launching its 5G activities in UK with a test network at the O2 entertainment venue. Customers there are promised to opportunity to experience the technology via a variety of demonstrations including virtual reality, augmented reality and live streaming.

5G use cases

While initially many of the use cases for 5G will likely focus on smarter city applications such as street lighting and traffic management, and in the cases of the Spanish cities tourism, energy use cases are starting to be developed.

One of these is the VirtuWind project, which is investigating how the control network infrastructure for wind farms can be simplified while at the same time enhancing their operation.

Another is the WIVE project in Finland, which is investigating the impact of 5G in increasing the business value of smart grids among other industrial applications.

In what appears to be one of the first utility projects, also taking place in Finland, energy company Fortum and Ericsson have launched a pilot to test a 5G and cellular IoT solution for demand balancing using the latter’s data centre as a virtual power plant. The aim is that at times of peak demand, Fortum switches off the data centre’s energy supply for short periods of time, when it will then run off its battery storage. 

”5G opens enormous new opportunity for energy producers enabling new energy sources and virtual power plants to be connected, thanks to low latency and high reliability of the technology,” comments Olli Sirkka, Head of Ericsson Finland, in a statement.