IoT could help give your local area its own power grid

An industry group's testbed will demonstrate coordination between microgrids and centralized systems

The Internet of Things is mostly about achieving greater scale, but in the case of an upcoming demonstration project, it will show how electrical grids can work at a smaller scale.

The testbed announced Thursday by the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) will bring together software and other components for microgrids, which link together local, alternative sources of power and energy storage. Those sources, including rooftop solar panels and wind turbines, can keep providing power even if the main grid goes down.

Most power grids were built for producing energy in one place and distributing it to users over a wide area. They're not all equipped to manage or take advantage of small power sources out at the edge of the grid. The IIC, which is trying to get big industries and tech vendors on the same page about the Internet of Things, formed the testbed to promote work on IoT components for microgrids.

Utilities make more power than they have to because they don't know how much energy is available from alternative sources at the edge of the grid, according to IIC. Microgrids offer the possibility of keeping power on in local areas even if the larger grid goes down, but they need to be coordinated with the main grid for that to work.

The Communication and Control Testbed will demonstrate how utilities can use real-time analytics and control to keep tabs on those distributed power sources and adjust their operations accordingly, IIC said. National Instruments, network equipment maker Cisco Systems, embedded middleware company Real-Time Innovations and utilities Duke Energy and Southern California Edison are among the participants. The project will culminate in a field deployment in San Antonio, Texas.

IIC is one of several bodies working to harmonize IoT technology, which is being developed at a breakneck pace without a coordinated way to make sure all parts will work together. In the industrial world, IoT comes out of a history of proprietary M2M (machine-to-machine) systems that weren't connected to the Internet.

IIC was founded about a year ago by AT&T, Cisco, IBM, General Electric and Intel. Earlier this year the group announced its first testbed, which was for "track and trace" technology to manage industrial tools around the world.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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