Monitoring the electric grid for a greener future

The Norwegian startup Heimdall Power is aiming to catapult the electric grid – designed 100 years ago – into the 21st century. How? By inventing the Power Neuron, a robust metal ball the size of a football, mounted on live wires. Inside the Neuron a sensor package is monitoring the wires and sending out early warnings, if line faults are about to happen. This unique real-time monitoring system enables grid owners to optimize their infrastructure and increase its capacity significantly.

It may look like a flying saucer straight out of a 50s sci-fi movie, but the Heimdall Power Neuron is pure hi-tech. Its sensors spy on the wire it’s sitting on in a multitude of ways: the flow of current in the line, wire angle, vibration and temperature, snow load, short circuit detection and much more. Neurons distributed all over the grid send their intel to the Heimdall headquarters in the cloud.

Through the Heimdall Cloud grid owners can access monitoring data in real-time and harvest valuable information to predict line faults before they occur, streamline maintenance and minimise blackouts. The technology promises to optimize energy distribution and may increase the capacity of the power infrastructure by a staggering 25 per cent.

Illustration of the Heimdall Neuron

Wires and wireless

Although the Neuron is designed to be mounted on a wire and is used for monitoring wires, much of what goes on inside it doesn’t need any wires whatsoever. The device gets its energy from the magnetic field surrounding the power cable, and it sends its measurements wirelessly to the cloud via mobile phone networks.

Photo of Monica

However, many power cables run in areas with very scattered population, where cellular coverage may be weak or even non-existent. This is where Data Respons R&D Services can help.

– In areas without cellular coverage the Neuron switches to an auxiliary communication technology, development engineer Monica Lapadatu explains.

– The current version of the Neuron uses a radio technology called LoRa, but for the next-generation Neuron the Heimdall development team wanted something else, so they turned to us for advice.

Reasons for switching

– They had several reasons for switching technologies. The most important ones were that LoRa communication is restricted, in the sense that you are only allowed to send a specific amount of data over a specific time period. This restriction limits the real time performance and amount of data Heimdall can transmit between the Neuron and Cloud. Another issue with LoRa is that it requires base stations stationed around the network. This requires both hardware and software, and is thus an extra point of possible failure, as well as another part of the system that needs to be maintained and updated over time.

Surveying technologies

But what to use instead of LoRa? To answer that question, Monica was tasked with surveying the radio technology landscape and pick the one best suited for connecting Neuron and Brain.

– I came back with a recommendation to choose Bluetooth Mesh. For various reasons it’s a good fit for this application. We needed a long line of Neurons to send data from one to the other. Bluetooth can do the long line, while other mesh networks are star-shaped and need concentrator nodes to function. Also, Bluetooth can provide the range we need. Bluetooth Version 5.0 has a feature called “long-range” mode. That gives you a range of around 1.3 km between each network node, which is more than sufficient.

Two ways of testing

While equipping the upcoming new version of the Heimdall Neuron with Bluetooth communication features, and testing it to be sure it met requirements, Monica also assisted the Heimdall development team in testing the previous version, which is equipped with LoRa, and fixing minor bugs.

– I am specialized in cybernetics and robotics. That means I have good testing skills, because I understand all the parts of a device, both electronics and software. In this case we did two very different kinds of testing. Regarding the current version of the Neuron, we had short time before product release, and I just had to fix a few things that weren’t working properly.

– With the Bluetooth version we were right at the beginning of development, so I was tasked to find out what the possibilities were and what the technology could do. We did a lot of ground tests to measure transmission range etc. Everything went well, so now we’re ready to implement Bluetooth in the next version of the Power Neuron. When that version is launched, customers who run older versions of the Neuron can upgrade or keep the old version, depending on their specific needs and requirements.

 

Four wireless technologies – characteristics and use scenarios

With the emergence of The Internet of Things, non-cellular communication technologies like Bluetooth Mesh are gaining traction. Data Respons has extensive experience in analysing concrete use cases and choosing the wireless protocol best suited for each specific application. Below we are presenting four technologies and their main characteristics, together with a number of relevant use scenarios. If you are interested in learning more, please feel free to reach out to our wireless experts.

Wireless technology Short presentation Main characteristics and use scenarios
LTE-M/NB-IoT Two new technologies, both based on mobile (cellular) technology created to be particularly suitable for enabling global. IoT connectivity. LTE-M and NB-IoT are both good connectivity options for industries looking to take advantage of LPWAN (Low Power Wide Area Networks) technology that enhances the battery life of devices and connects devices that have previously been hard to reach. They are both available today, standardized and built on the 4G network which means they are future-proof, have global network coverage and are backed up by GSMA and telecom standards. Seldom communicated – when applying this technology, you are dependent on 3.party infrastructure (mobile network operators). With 10+ years of operation, this starts to be a risk. 5)
  • LTE-M is the better alternative with respect to handling firmware and software updates that are expected during the lifecycle of the devices. LTE-M is built for roaming and has the best support for international deployments using a single point of contact and subscription for enterprises.
  • Both LTE-M and NB-IoT have significantly improved indoor coverage compared with LTE.
  • -LTE-M is a better alternative for moving devices, as it will not lose ongoing data transfers.
  • LTE-M is prepared for voice technology and Voice over LTE.
  • With LTE-M, devices can react in milliseconds if required, enabling use cases where a fast response is needed, which is relevant for the usability of human-machine interactions.

5)

Bluetooth mesh Bluetooth Mesh is a computer mesh networking standard based on Bluetooth Low Energy that allows for many-to-many communication over Bluetooth radio. Enables the creation of large-scale device networks making it ideally suited for control, monitoring and automation systems where tens, hundreds, or thousands of devices need to reliably and securely communicate with one another
  • Coverage of very large areas
  • Self-organizing many to many network
  • The ability to monitor and control large numbers of devices
  • Optimized, low energy consumption
  • Compatibility with currently available smartphone, tablet and personal computer products
  • Industry-standard, government-grade security

6)

Thread Thread is a standards-based IPv6-based mesh networking protocol developed for directly and securely connecting products around the home to each other, to the internet, and to the cloud. Simpler to set up than Bluetooth and also benchmarked to be faster (larger bandwidth, shorter latency).  4)
  • Simple network installation, start-up, and operation.
  • Self-organizing many to many network
  • Secure
  • Large commercial networks
  • No single point of failure
  • Low power
  • Cost effective
  • Market ready

1)

SmartMesh IP SmartMesh IP combines reliability and ultra low-power with a native Internet Protocol (IP) layer for a robust, standards-based offering perfect for a broad range of industrial applications. SmartMesh IP provides robust wire-free connectivity for applications where low power, reliability, and ease of deployment> matter. 3)
  • Ultra low power consumption
  • Deterministic power management and optimization
  • Auto-forming mesh technology for a self-healing and self-sustaining network
  • Dynamic bandwidth support, load balancing and optimization
  • Network management and configuration
  • Zero collision low power packet exchange
  • Scalability to large, dense, deep networks
  • High network reliability

2)

  1. Ref: https://www.silabs.com/documents/public/user-guides/ug103-11-fundamentals-thread.pdf
  2. Ref: https://advantech-bb.com/what-is-smartmesh-ip/
  3. Ref: https://www.analog.com/media/en/technical-documentation/user-guides/smartmesh_ip_user_s_guide.pdf
  4. Ref: https://blog.nordicsemi.com/getconnected/an-introduction-to-thread
  5. Ref: https://www.telenorconnexion.com/iot-insights/lte-m-vs-nb-iot-guide-differences/
  6. Ref: https://www.bluetooth.com/blog/an-intro-to-bluetooth-mesh-part1/

 

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