Why G.hn over BPL wins
Notes only. Please improve.
An industry report that compiles experience with smarter grids in various places in the world focuses on energy applications but is less than adequate in its coverage of the many potential uses of the "secure and ubiquitous communications" listed at the top of the list of "capabilities" in each of the cases (Singapore, Flanders, etc.) listed.
The report is excellent in its coverage of the energy applications, all of which need to be anticipated in Integrated Community Sustainability Plans (ICSP) of every Canadian municipality. In particular the metrics suggested are conservation-focused and safety-focused rather than generation-focused.
These notes may be overly technical for some decision-makers but it's impossible to anticipate that without knowing what they already know - a good many of these people may already be using HomePlug equipment to hook up several computers in their house, for instance, thus would know BPL works. My conclusion is controversial but I believe I can back it up:
Move to a competitive wholesale power and data environment quickly, and connect users with secure LANs that are run by co-ops or responsible district utilities so that they participate in demand management and emergency sensor networks and gain access to cost and insurance savings, as well as advanced communications services faster than today's Internet. Measure the success of these efforts in the reach of such networks and watts conserved, not irrelevant criteria like number of watts generated. We do not want to be running leaky beer fridges on expensive solar power, and we do not want the fire department relying only on calls when it could rely on direct sensing of fires or gas leaks inside the home instead, that are directly networked to the district's emergency management system(s).
(the following makes reference to the Canadian Integrated Community Sustainability Plans or ICSPs, and other localisms. This should probably be refactored over time.)
- 1 ICSPs are for 30 years, until 2040
- 2 The very high cost of peak use
- 3 BPL in the home is G.hn over P1901 over existing AC wires
- 4 Industrial conclusion: Internet goes as long distance phone, another ISP dieoff
- 5 Community conclusion: Build district power and data utilities or die
ICSPs are for 30 years, until 2040
The ICSPs in our communities need to be examined to be certain that they're in line with the expert assessment of what will happen to power and data networks over the next 30 years, the period of time over which such plans are expected to mature. I have noticed in most of these plans that I've seen a fairly common misunderstanding of the nature of the changes to the power grid, reinforced by technically incompetent media and high officials, presenting it as a matter of *WHERE* power is generated rather than *WHEN* it is used. 56% of power generated in the US does no work whatsoever, and that is mostly a consequence of when it is generated, that it can't be stored for use later on. (number is from official Dept of Energy reports). For this reason the US has made a "smart grid" the focus of its energy reforms - it was the major focus of meetings when Obama came to Canada.
The very high cost of peak use
Peak daytime power use is out of control and causing cities to go broke: As a simple financial fact, the City of Toronto for instance is forced to purchase kilowatt-hours for C$1.50 each during summer peak periods to prevent a brownout at Toronto Hydro. (the number comes direct from the official responsible, via a board member of Toronto Community Housing Corporation). Ontario's laws however prevent them from selling that kilowatt-hour for more than *TEN CENTS*, so the public slowly goes broke subsidizing peak users. It's got to stop. Generating a lot more solar power during the day (which Ontario has guaranteed a price of C$0.80/kwH for, which is far more than the average peak price they pay year-round) is an extremely expensive way to address the problem. Wind is less expensive but also does not predictably blow during the peak use times (unlike sun which does tend to predictably shine when it's very hot). These feed-in tariffs have motivated a wide variety of questionable schemes such as home owners signing away rights to put solar panels on their roofs, without any guarantee of when or how it will happen or even that a certified roofer is going to oversee the job to ensure they do not end up replacing their roof.
Conservation is the only solution
Nova Scotia has wisely avoided the feed-in-tariff (FIT) trap and focused on conservation, requiring new power generation projects to be justified watt- for-watt against conservation potential (removing the same amount of power from the grid as the generation project would add, over the same period of time). A $1 billion fossil burning proposal for instance was cancelled in favour of a $60 million conservation program, after it was demonstrated that conservation was LESS THAN ONE-SIXTEENTH AS EXPENSIVE as supposedly- cheap fossil generation, and even less expensive than most renewable power, often in the range of 20x less, even if it was assumed to be co-generated.
How do such conservation programs work? The usual long term solution is to find a lot of devices willing to be turned off during peaks and get paid for it, such payment being certain to be far less than C$1.40/kwH or even C$0.70/kwH. The current "smart grid" pilot involving two dozen Maritime communities recently announced by Peter MacKay in his role as ACOA minister, involves networking devices to turn on when wind power is readily available and off when it is not - the first step on a very long road to a "smart grid" as described in the report from Smart Grid News linked above.
Conservation requires communication
Simply put, conservation requires communication: Setting fixed prices for specific times of day can never work because that simply creates new peaks and unpredictable feedback. If freezers for instance go off between 8 AM and 6 PM every day, because of fixed higher prices for electricity at that time, and all come on again at 6:01, a new peak will be created from 6 to 8 or however long it takes for all that food to freeze up to withstand the thaw tomorrow. There is no way to do "peak levelling" that doesn't involve direct signalling reaching every device of exactly when the "peak event" is - that means that every device must at least respond to electronic on/off switches sent by the network.
Want an electric car? Well, you will never be able to buy one without an agreement to have that car charge only off peak, not anywhere in the world, because the price of charging that car during peak hours is simply beyond what subsidies can absorb, while the price of charging it off-peak is often nothing: The power would be generated anyway by nuclear or hydro or wind and would only go to waste if it wasn't sucked into car batteries.
Now think about this: That *ONE BIT* of information (like a single on-off switch) sent to all those devices at the same time saves potentially tens or hundreds of millions of dollars a year in peak power that our utilities don't have to buy wholesale. It can eliminate almost all coal power since coal plants are generally used to provide peak power on very short notice. A few extra bits of information *FROM* the house (moving around in the house or from house to a district network) have lesser but still extremely significant benefits: "this house is shorting out in many circuits at once and may be flooding or on fire", "this medical monitor has not moved in sixteen hours and the person may be immobile for a medical reason", "the gas meter says a lot of gas is being used but no gas devices are on", "the lights have been on in this house for six hours but no one is home". Again tens of millions of dollars in medical, insurance and emergency cost savings can result.
Communication comes in megabits to gigabits
But there are no network technologies now in use that move only a few bits, in fact there are none that move less than about 50 megabits per second, and the ones used in homes support up to a gigabit per wire. This means there are many ways to pay for smartening-up of the grid that will have huge cash benefits for those paying the costs of disasters, but do not involve cash payouts by power users, but instead by users of the bulk communications users:
A secure network carrying 20 to 90 megabits per second of data including TV and voice as well as a very secure 1 or 2 megabits for power and emergency use, could be paid for by the voice/data/TV subscriber and therefore be effectively free to the community for its safety & power use. Or these uses could share the cost of provisioning in some proportion, or the prospect of voice/data/TV revenues could motivate even a private grid owner to roll out a very secure and reliable grid the community can use to protect itself and save money.
All through the 1990s during the "dotcom boom", it was common practice to run hundreds of times more fibre optic cable than was needed at the time, because the expense of doing so is very small compared to coming back to run more parallel cables later. That same logic applies to district fibre optic backbones: Most have extra capacity, and if any needs to be added a vast amount (hundreds of gigabits worth) is relatively easy to add at once.
So the bandwidth from the Internet to the major transforming station isn't usually a problem; More of a problem is the bandwidth to the house, which is why wireless is usually deployed in the first pilots and experiments.
Considering that it is relatively easy and very cheap to "over-provision" a communications network and sell the excess bandwidth (for voice, Internet and TV use, equivalent to today's wired cable or DSL or faster), and that emergency management benefits immensely from the ability to detect faults and ration power in many devices owned by the end customer, the benefits of a publicly-run smart grid are actually immensely greater than what has been explored in this report. In "figure 2" of this report, the "holistic view of the smart grid" includes a small loop labelled "low power radio network". This is actually an ineffective way to connect most electric devices, as radio is less secure, lower bandwidth and cannot be integrated into every single small cheap device without immense expense.
BPL in the home is G.hn over P1901 over existing AC wires
The technologies that solve these problems are the ITU's G.hn data packet standard and the IEEE's P1901 "broadband over power line" standard which moves these G.hn packets over existing AC wiring. While low power radio is a reasonable way to integrate diverse devices into a pilot network, in the long run, it is these technologies, which combine the data with AC on existing wiring and connect devices into networks with a single existing AC plug, that have to dominate, unless we are going to imagine that every GFCI outlet and circuit breaker is going to become a low-power radio hub, and be effectively secured (the expense of this in practice is immense and will get worse over time). The ITU and IEEE are not fools and their "BPL" solution to this problem has been heavily endorsed by the US NIST and FCC, and these technologies are already to be the backbone of the US smart grid.
An open secret: secure communications will fund the smart grid
Most credible reports about smart grids focus on the energy applications but are less than adequate in their coverage of the many potential uses of the "secure and ubiquitous communications". The following report includes several cases of real world applications and lists communications top on the list of "capabilities" without much exploring the implications of it: http://www.smartgridnews.com/pdf/SmartGrid2009_FINALREPORT.pdf
Many reports are excellent in coverage of the energy applications, all of which need to be anticipated in Integrated Community Sustainability Plans (ICSP) of every Canadian municipality. In particular the metrics suggested are conservation-focused and safety-focused rather than generation-focused, which is very important. The "holistic view of the smart grid" (figure 2) is especially important to understand, especially in light of G.hn over BPL
Like most, that report understates potential for secure cheap low-latency broadband or emergency service signalling to move through the same network as the power data. Probably for political reasons: Many early supporters of projects want to protect their turf and hiding the fact that the grid will have enough excess bandwidth to literally eradicate telephone company (telco), cable company (cableco) and satellite and specialized radio uses suits their need to get access to networks of communications providers. The intention of the industry is to get smart grid pilot projects started and slowly secure the rights to run their own communications networks (a right that incumbent powercos already have, as the have people and devices up on the poles and down in the conduits), then wipe out existing players. The process will be similar to how small ISPs were wiped out by the telcos and cablecos whose infrastructure they could not avoid using. The powercos are now in this same position relative to the telcos and cablecos as power and data needs and standards converge: District utilities and co-ops will exploit this opportunity where the incumbent monopoly powerco fails to...
Why combined power and data utilities will win over the long run
In the 30-year span that ICSPs cover, there is no question that powercos and district utilities serving smaller communities/neighbourhoods have an unbeatable competitive advantage in the provision of data services. These advantages will be partly due to the nature of the network and personnel they will build up with smart grid technology:
Electrically-certified personnel with a secure gigabit network
- their personnel are qualified and certified to go up on any pole or into
any power transformer closet or home electrical box and deal with both a power and a data problem (neither the telco nor the cableco have linemen)
- the network they build on will already be secure and heavily regulated,
and accordingly could be trusted as primary carrier of any sensitive data given adequate (wireless) backup and application-level security measures
- revenue is available from displacing other secure wired networks and also
serving high-security wireless virtual private networks (VPN) for various users (security companies, fire, medical, police, social services) who've got legitimate and immediate use for real-time data retrieved from a home
- the network's provisioning and maintenance is paid for by the power uses
(delivering electricity, helping customers use less electricity, shifting power use off-peak) so it is effectively free for the communications uses
(or, in the alternative as mentioned above, the network is paid for by communications users and becomes available for free for power/safety use, or each one pays only half or two-thirds what a data-only network would have to pay to build its network out, still a significant advantage)
G.hn works on any home wiring, simplifying home networks
Edges are also due to specific advantages offered by the BPL technology itself, which is the only way to move AC power and data on a single wire:
- three home wiring standards (USB, powered ethernet, BPL) deliver power
and data on a single cable; BPL is the only one that can deliver AC power at all: USB 3.0, the latest instantiation, is restricted to 5 volts DC, under 5 watts and two or three meter long cables. Powered ethernet (PoE) can provide from 1-48 volts DC on very long cables but line loss is very large at low voltages on long wires and each device is limited to 30 watts (though some manufacturers support higher wattages, it's not standardized how to do this). This leaves BPL in the home as the only way to support long cables, greater-than-30-watt devices or any AC device at all; No one will be able to avoid having BPL in their home for the same reasons as no one is able to avoid having USB in their home for charging or connecting small DC devices to computers, phones, cameras and such; Familiarity with BPL, like USB, will soon be quite ubiquitous.
- access to wireless spectrum or quality-of-service (QoS) guarantees from a
telco or cableco or cellular telephone company (cellco using GSM or CDMA protocols) is unpredictable and requires very difficult spectrum/latency tests to be performed for every individual device connection; these are built into the BPL protocol (G.hn over P1901) and identical worldwide so the economies of scale for devices relying on this approach will be huge and support for it certain to be available in very cheap chips that will be integrated into every device's power supply, or into every GFCI outlet at least; BPL is designed to deal with an extraordinary amount of radio interference and detect existing spectrum uses and avoid using the bands that are in use - to do this with other technologies means starting from scratch, effectively, and trying to bring them up to this standard post- facto, after all the existing electronics has been standardized/shipped; in other words its extremely unlikely that anyone will invest much in a marginal market (wireless communication in extremely electronically noisy environments inside the electrical system) since there are technologies that are specifically designed to deal with it, that being G.hn/P1901/BPL
- the basic technology powerline networking relies on (BPL = G.hn on P1901)
is compatible with household networking technologies (G.hn over existing telephone wire, G.hn over existing cable/antenna coax) on existing wire, and easily combines to achieve up to 3000 megabits/second household speed (ten times the maximum of wireless-N) which is fast enough to eliminate separate hard drives from TVs and PVRs for computers, replacing them with a single data storage device in the house; By contrast telco and cableco technology is converted to ethernet inside homes, requiring cat5 or cat6e wiring to be extended everywhere in the house where devices need reliable secure wired communication. Two gigabit ethernet connections "teamed" to combine into one connection provides a maximum of 2000 megabits/second to each wired device, and achieving that requires two separate cat5 cables.
Network geeks, gamers and professionals might reasonably run those extra cables in their home or even run extremely expensive 10-gigabit-ethernet networks, but they will only resort to that if they need faster copying than USB 3.0 (4800 megabits per second). By the time they do, it's very likely that G.hn will support speeds faster than one gigabit, wireless-N will have been succeeded by a standard that supports half a gigabit or a full gigabit over short distances, all of which means that the combined bandwidth of a cat3 telephone wire, cable company coax, AC outlet and a wireless connection (all "teamed" by a single cheap little box) would be competitive with whatever connections one would make over ethernet wires all costs considered; That by 2040 we'll still probably be using G.hn and a wireless backup to carry the bulk of household communications, but most ethernet wiring will be used only for emergency always-on DC devices such as voice-over-IP phones, medical monitoring, security cameras, etc.
Industrial conclusion: Internet goes as long distance phone, another ISP dieoff
Over the next 30 years, expect combined power and data service to become the norm just as combined TV/Internet service and TV/phone/net service became the norm over the past few years. District utilities that can manage district resources (shared geothermal/ground heating systems or windmills or storage batteries) and ration power effectively in a crisis, will provide secure data access to Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) where a large number of "long distance Internet" service providers compete in just the same way as a large number of long distance phone providers compete now to serve landline subscribers. District-wide services such as fire, social and medical services will be alerted by signals from homes the same way the private security companies respond, but with a much wider range of signals that reach much deeper into the danger-prone household systems (especially gas and electric). Given the economies and additional revenues and benefit of relying on a single global standard and rigid local standards for secure networking, unified power and data utilities will become the norm over the next 30 years. The owners of rights-of-way on power poles with the ability to service any powered equipment hold near-unbeatable edges over incumbent telcos and cablecos which have to pay for their networks and pole services using bulk data revenue alone, with no access to the premium charged for a physically secure virtual private network, no way to sell electricity or to fully participate in savings available when automation aids conservation, and using protocols that don't work over existing home wire (cat3 telephone and cableco coax as well as existing AC 14/2 and 14/3 home grade wiring).
The only way for the telco and cableco, and even possibly the cellco, to compete, would be to become also a power provider, and this means that they must acquire expertise and certification and culture they don't have. In practice almost all of them will retreat to the wholesale market, and let the public pressure to avoid monopoly power being abused force the opening of many IXPs where they can affordably service users in the wired wholesale market, and the opening of long range wireless towers to open competition using open spectrum technologies (such as 802.3a/b/g/n also called "WiFi").
Businesses forced to pay monopoly prices should demand access to a competitive wholesale power and data environment quickly, and connect at least their own buildings with secure LANs that are run by co-ops or responsible district utilities so that they participate in demand management and emergency sensor networks and gain access to cost and insurance savings, as well as advanced communications services they need to compete. Municipal and other governments can take the lead in this, perhaps acting as a competitor of last resort for residences or businesses in remote locations with no other access to competitive data networks.
Both private and public users should be careful not to fall into the trap of "productivism", measuring what they put on the grid, not what's removed: measure the success of smart grid efforts in the reach of such networks (how many buildings, how many persons) and watts conserved and shifted off-peak, not misleading criteria like number of watts generated. We do not want to be running leaky beer fridges on expensive solar power, and we do not want the fire department relying only on calls when it could rely on direct sensing of fires or gas leaks inside the home instead, that are directly networked to the district's emergency management system(s).
Community conclusion: Build district power and data utilities or die
Districts that for whatever reason do not migrate to an open architecture and exploit public leverage to create a competitive environment where power and data connections are wholesaled by many providers at central points, and all users collectively participate in demand management and emergency signalling at least, will suffer severe challenges to their very viability.
Most will remain economic backwaters due to high insurance premiums (inability to access discounts available only to buildings heavily wired with sensors), low real estate prices (most businesses and even many families will avoid living in places without these services that have to pay high monopoly prices for power or data or both), low economic opportunity (no knowledge economy business would locate in such a district), poor services (schools and hospitals will not be able to locate in such districts either), physical danger (slower fire and medical alerts, more temptation for break-ins and home invasions), loss of youth (amplifying these problems) to places where more opportunity exists, etc..
Canada already has the most expensive and slowest Internet connections in the world, with probably the least competition. That situation continues to degrade our productivity and export capacity and even labour mobility. Our communities need to take the lead in finding and exchanging the best practices that will make them safer, more alert and responsive to signals from their own buildings and vehicles.