Wi-Fi HaLow in Clean Energy

How Morse Micro’s Wi-Fi HaLow solutions can help reduce the earth’s consumption of carbon-based fuels, and build sustainable clean energy infrastructures

Clean. Green. Renewable. Sustainable. No matter how innovative energy companies label themselves, they likely share an ultimate goal of reducing the reliance on hydrocarbon sources and eliminating harmful emissions and pollution from the process of creating, distributing and consuming energy. At each stage, there are opportunities to increase efficiency by using advanced communications systems. 

With the advent of sub-1 GHz IEEE 802.11ah Wi-Fi HaLow technology, these systems can now rely on a secure, low-power, long-distance Wi-Fi network across a broader scale of applications. With Wi-Fi HaLow, the combined effects of using lower frequencies and narrower band channels than previous generations of Wi-Fi are connections that reach much farther while using less total energy. Devices can communicate with an access point (AP) up to 1 kilometer away, depending on the country’s regulations on radio systems. For some clean energy systems which span several square kilometers, Wi-Fi HaLow can connect more than  8,000 devices to a single AP.  

Improving the Efficiency of Existing Systems

The existing infrastructures of energy creation, transmission, storage, distribution and consumption can all benefit from immediate improvements in efficiency.  Aggregating small improvements across large numbers of consumption devices can result in a major impact on demand. Studying the patterns of consumption can lead to better predictions of how to control the grid and power generation plants.  Wi-Fi HaLow simplifies the process of connecting more devices across much greater distances so that intelligent systems can make use of the finer granularity of knowledge and control. Morse Micro can already begin making contributions to energy efficiency today, while enabling new ideas for future clean energy systems of tomorrow.

Home Automation

A home’s thermostat is a good starting point to explore how Wi-Fi HaLow can improve efficiency in today’s infrastructure. Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are among the largest consumers of energy in the home. When wireless connectivity is added to a programmable thermostat, the homeowner can adjust settings remotely via cloud applications over the Internet. However, not all homeowners program their systems in efficient ways. Smart thermostats improve efficiency by adjusting settings based on patterns of actual system usage, and they account for occupancy in the home. These systems would also be improved by incorporating knowledge at a higher level within an ecosystem that might be aware of the homeowner’s location and schedule. For instance, if the homeowner’s smartphone reports to a cloud-based home automation system that his location is presently 500 miles away, there might not be a need to crank up the heat at the “usual” time.

When the solution uses Wi-Fi HaLow, a new level of improved connectivity is enabled.  Wi-Fi HaLow’s sub-1 GHz radio signals penetrate through walls, floors and ceiling better than typical 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi or other technologies like Bluetooth, Zigbee or Z-Wave. Traditional Wi-Fi might require buying repeaters or meshes to connect a smart thermostat to the router, adding cost and energy consumption. The low power Wi-Fi HaLow thermostat can reach the home’s Wi-Fi router more easily, simplifying installation costs, and potentially allowing for battery-operated thermostats without any power wires. The individual components in the HVAC system such as air handlers, furnaces, heat pumps, AC compressors and sensor devices in different parts of the home, can be interconnected over Wi-Fi HaLow instead of via wired cable. Each component can become an untethered modular piece of the HVAC system, where each can be incorporated into the usage analysis, and each could be independently upgraded as more efficient technologies emerge.  

New types of Wi-Fi HaLow sensors such as room occupancy, angle of the sun, humidity and air pollution can provide a larger picture for the HVAC system to provide an intelligent response. Their placement can be chosen by where they provide the best information, instead of being limited to non-optimal placement due to Wi-Fi’s limited coverage. They can operate using very small batteries and outdoor temperature and wind speed sensors can also be installed. Smart window shades and smart tinted glass solutions can be incorporated into this Wi-Fi HaLow network to assist the HVAC system in managing temperatures. These passive systems require very little energy, yet can greatly reduce the demands on the HVAC system if they can be reliably connected over a Wi-Fi HaLow network at much further distances away from the AP.

Click here to learn how your wireless cameras can benefit from Wi-Fi HaLow

Building Automation Systems (BAS)

Wi-Fi HaLow can improve the efficiency and cost of ownership of a commercial building’s HVAC system. Consider the example of cooling the air for a large office building. A centralized compressor or heat pump provides refrigerant or chilled liquid to one or more evaporator coils on each floor. An air handler takes in air from the occupied space and blows it through the evaporator coil to reduce the temperature.  The cool air travels to the multiple office areas and conference rooms via an air duct, or plenum, and small damper doors are opened or closed by controller devices near each room to allow the cool air to satisfy what is demanded by sensors and thermostat settings inside the space. This entire network of compressors, sensors, thermostats and damper controllers can be networked together to provide a high-level view of the building’s performance to building management system (BMS) monitors on site, or in the cloud. The old method for building this network relies on installing wired power and signal connections to most of these components. Some systems incorporate short-reach wireless mesh networks, including 802.15.4 Zigbee or proprietary radios for sensor devices.  Several stages of proprietary hubs or gateways add delays, latency and data throughput restrictions on the path from these devices to reach the BMS on the Internet.

IEEE 802.11ah Wi-Fi HaLow ICs provide unique advantages over these wired and proprietary wireless technologies. HaLow operates in the sub-1 GHz frequency range using narrow bandwidth channels, which can penetrate walls, ceilings, floors and objects much easier than wired or 2.4 GHz wireless technologies.  Devices can be placed where they are needed, with fewer restrictions. This can eliminate multiple stages of mesh connections and repeaters, reducing the infrastructure costs and the number of devices consuming energy. Wi-Fi HaLow also provides higher levels of security and higher data rates for its connections. This helps battery-operated sensors last longer by spending less time sending their packets of data and more time sleeping to save energy. They can take advantage of features such as Target Wake Time (TWT) and extended idle periods which were included in the IEEE 802.11ah standard. If new features and efficiencies are identified for these systems which require software upgrades, Wi-Fi HaLow has the data throughput to securely support fast Over-the-Air (OTA) updates, reducing costly manual intervention for each device in the building.

When HVAC is combined with other environmental, safety, and security systems, further energy efficiencies can be realized. Though these subsystems may have developed independently in the past, they can now use a common IP-based wireless Wi-Fi HaLow network to share status and respond accordingly as part of an integrated BMS. In order to scale up the connectivity for a 30-story building incorporating systems like HVAC, smart lighting, occupancy sensing, and smart tinted window systems, the building’s network must be able to handle a high density of connections. Each Wi-Fi HaLow AP or router can support up to 8,191 connections, and all connections can be natively IPv6-connected to a BMS in the cloud. The BMS would learn whether it was more energy efficient to increase cool airflow to a conference room or to increase the smart window tint to keep the occupants comfortable.

Smart Metering and Smart Grid

The advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) initiatives of the past decade in the United States improved the two-way communications of meters installed at the service points (homes and offices). Utility operators who embraced the concept now have more real-time knowledge of energy usage within a home or business, and they get better granularity for billing purposes. They can make agreements with customers about charging for energy usage based on time-of-day, they predict demands through the grid, and potentially can control some appliances within the home to balance loads. However, there remain gaps in a standard method of how to deploy a communications network for the neighborhood as well as in how the utility can connect to more energy consumers within the home. Wi-Fi HaLow can bridge gaps for the upstream connectivity of these meters for the grid network, and simultaneously bridge the gaps in connectivity to the homeowner’s consumption devices.

A utility meter using Wi-Fi HaLow can reach further than 1 km (per FCC regulations in the USA). This simplifies the utility’s network in that it can use a star-oriented architecture. A single AP in a neighborhood could monitor thousands of homes. Wi-Fi HaLow also increases the security of the data transferred to and from each home by adopting Wi-Fi’s WPA3 levels of encryption. The Wi-Fi HaLow utility meter can negotiate sleep times with the AP to save power when communications are not required. Competing solutions based on Zigbee radio technology (whether 2.4 GHz or sub-1 GHz IEEE 802.15.4g Wi-SUN) rely on meshes of devices to relay the information back to a neighborhood’s utility gateway to get access to the IP network. As discussed earlier, such meshes incur delays and reduce the network’s total throughput for all the other nodes in the mesh. Some electric utility providers offer consumers lower rates during non-peak hours. Utilities can bargain with homeowners to monitor and control devices such as hot water heaters or electric vehicle chargers to defer usage until off-peak demand times.

The distribution infrastructure that delivers electricity to homes and businesses can also benefit from using Wi-Fi HaLow connectivity. High-tension transmission lines leave the plant and start their journeys to the neighborhoods at very high voltages, on the order 10 kV. These lines pass through substations tasked with monitoring the health of the grid in smaller regions, typically transforming the primary to the 1 k volts range for the distribution network of primary and secondary wires that will eventually feed neighborhoods.  Substations may switch multiple primary sources and secondary loads to match the supply and demand for power. Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems rely on sensors to understand what is happening in the entire network in order to make decisions on how to manage the power grid.  The conditions measured at the substations are often used to infer what has caused a fault on the downstream lines which feed neighborhood transformers. By installing more sensors and providing more data with a finer granularity of the conditions in the secondary networks, including what is being experienced at each transformer in a neighborhood, the SCADA system can make better decisions on how to respond.  Wi-Fi HaLow’s > 1 km reach and high throughput can be used to aggregate sensor data both within the substations as well as within the neighborhood. Intelligent sensors on power line poles can help figure out where a branch has fallen onto the line or can report that a neighborhood transformer’s performance is below efficiency specifications. Proactive maintenance of elements in the grid can help save wasted power and improve reaction time to anomalies.

Clean Energy Systems

Solar

The cost per kilowatt of photovoltaic (PV) systems that convert sunlight to electricity has dropped dramatically over the past several decades. A large portion of the drop was due to increased efficiencies of the PV panels, the best of which now hover just below 25 percent. Another portion of the cost decrease was due to new innovations such as microinverters and optimizers that make the best use of energy from each individual panel. Fewer panels are required to produce the average power needed for a typical home than in the past. Monitoring systems that track the status of every individual panel on a building’s roof provide feedback for attaining the peak power for the installation. Some of these components may communicate through the power cables. A single internet connection is typically made via Ethernet, Wi-Fi, or cellular modem at the unit that combines the solar system with the home’s grid connection.

How can Morse Micro’s Wi-Fi HaLow transceivers add value to these systems?  As discussed, the sub-1 GHz RF signals of IEEE 802.11ah travel through roof materials, walls, ceilings, and floors more effectively than 2.4 GHz radio technologies. This can improve first-pass success and diagnostics of complex installations where it is difficult for the home Wi-Fi router signals to reach outdoor equipment. By using wireless communications in every panel, micro-inverter, power optimizer, and grid-tied switch, the entire system can be monitored and controlled to the finest granularity without relying on data flowing through the power cable. The ICs can operate at very low voltages and can save energy by sleeping when idle. With a native-IP wireless communications network, every component could be connected to the management system in the cloud. Aging components could be individually upgraded with higher efficiency components in the future, without having to be backward compatible with the wired communications protocols. Interoperability between different component suppliers could encourage innovation and competition which would accelerate the growth of the market for consumers.

Energy Storage

Batteries provide the most obvious choice for storing electric energy for use by small devices and vehicles. By extending the battery life of wireless sensors, Wi-Fi HaLow provides an immediate benefit to the planet by reducing waste of disposable batteries. Wi-Fi HaLow uses less total energy than traditional Wi-Fi for longer distance connections. This is due to its operation in the lower frequency bands as well as using new sleep protocols such as Target Wake Time (TWT) and extended maximum idle periods.

Advances in Lithium polymer (LiPo) battery technology revolutionized several industries from smart phones to electric vehicles. The energy for an entire house might be stored in a large LiPo battery hung on a wall.  Intelligent battery chargers can store “free” solar energy in the battery, or can charge from the grid during off-peak times.  The house battery can give the energy back to the house or appliances when needed during peak times that would otherwise have billed at higher rates. The coordination of all these systems can be assisted with Wi-Fi HaLow in every component.

Grid-scale power plants are tuned to operate at an optimal efficiency, with some leeway to divert excess power during low demand to very large storage systems. During peak demand, these storage systems can be tapped to use their energy. Large banks of LiPo and Flow-batteries the size of tractor trailers can be positioned near substations or critical businesses as uninterruptible power supplies. 

Electrochemical batteries are not the only way to store energy. Converting electricity into kinetic energy can provide a means to hold renewable clean energy.  Excess electricity can be used to spin very large fly wheels which spin on low-friction bearings. The fly wheel’s inertia can be converted back into electricity by engaging a generator when needed. This concept is analogous to hydropower or wind power, albeit in a more compact form factor. Fields of flywheel storage devices can be networked together with Wi-Fi HaLow without relying on wires.

Wind

The proverbial wind farm of towers stretching taller than 100 meters may benefit greatly from the use of Wi-Fi HaLow technology.  Within each tower is housed a gearbox and generator that converts the rotational wind forces into electricity that runs in cables to the ground. Bearings and gears are monitored for premature wear and vibrations. The direction and pitch of the blades are controlled to ensure consistent delivery of power to the grid. The tower also includes numerous sensors to measure environmental conditions such as wind speed, direction, and formation of ice. A Wi-Fi HaLow network can connect all these functions and enable the placement of new small sensors which might not have been accessible in the past. 

Geothermal, Hydropower, Natural Gas, Bioenergy

IEEE 802.11ah Wi-Fi HaLow is an attractive wireless communications solution for these clean power industries due to its ability to connect sensors and actuators across very large volumes. They are similar applications to the industrial automation (IA) industry. Compared to traditional 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi, the reach from a Wi-Fi HaLow AP is over 10 times farther, covering more than 100 times greater area, and over 1,000 times greater volume. Wi-Fi HaLow sensors can be placed in locations that are not accessible to data cables. Rivers can be spanned and multiple well heads in a field can be aggregated. The process engineer has greater flexibility to design the optimal system without restrictions imposed by running ethernet cables or proprietary wired controller solutions.

Cycles of Innovation 

Who would have predicted the success of Wi-Fi when it was born 25 years ago? The advantages of IEEE 802.11ah Wi-Fi HaLow deliver new options to innovators in clean energy for the next 30 years. Longer distances. Lower Power. Better penetration through objects.  Larger numbers of native-IP connections. More security. Morse Micro is proud to be a catalyst for this innovation cycle.