Ultimately, a wireless communication system that lowers cost, speeds up deployment, and accelerates global energy efficiency and usage, can enable companies to design state-of-the-art Smart Grid solutions, water & gas distribution systems, condition & risk monitoring and energy-optimizing infrastructure systems.
Smart Grid Communications
Joaquin Silva | On-Ramp Wireless
1. Can you explain On-Ramp’s technology for us?
We started the company about four years ago, and developed the Ultra-Link Processing™ (ULP) wireless system from the ground up for sensing and metering applications. ULP is the first cost-effective, wide-area wireless communication technology that can monitor billions of devices with minimal network infrastructure. These devices measure and provide critical information for controlling automation systems, consumption of energy and other scarce resources. No other wireless technology is “purpose built” from the ground up to address this problem.
Ultimately, a wireless communication system that lowers cost, speeds up deployment, and accelerates global energy efficiency and usage, can enable companies to design state-of-the-art Smart Grid solutions, water & gas distribution systems, condition & risk monitoring and energy-optimizing infrastructure systems. Our key contracts include San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE) and Shell Oil; and key partnerships include SAIC, GE Digital Energy, Schweitzer Engineering Labs (SEL), Končar INEM and Gemtek.
2. What are the pros and cons of using commercial cellular versus private networks for smart grid communications?
Obviously, cellular technology is pervasive and globally available. It is an ideal technology for applications with tens of users per base station, requiring large download bandwidth for data and voice. However, for most of the endpoint devices in Smart Grid applications cellular is not ideal due to two primary factors. First, cellular coverage is generally only available where the operators expect their customers to be. This means limited coverage in backcountry and rural areas, but also presents challenges to providing reliable coverage in urban centers. Second, cellular systems struggle to provide the multi-year battery life that many devices in the Smart Grid (cap bank controllers, FCIs, transformer monitors) would expect. In turn, these are the main advantages of private networks for Smart Grid. With the right technology, coverage can be completely pervasive, even to below ground assets, while still maintaining device battery life of 10+ years.
3. Terror scenario – hackers attack the smart grid and shut down New York City – is this a real threat or has it been solved through smart security and communications for smart grids?
On-Ramp’s ULP network has been architected using end-to-end security algorithms for low-bandwidth applications and is part of the fundamental design, not an add-on afterward. The ULP network uses NIST-approved security algorithms that have greater than 20 years of life. This makes ULP networks secure beyond 2030 and one of the most secure wireless solutions on the market.
4. What is the most important trend affecting utility companies today?
Most utilities are focused on a strategy to upgrade their meters to Smart Meter technology, which enables a host of new applications such as time-of-day-pricing and demand response. But we are also seeing a heavy trend toward grid automation and asset monitoring. At its core, the utility is an asset management company. Device monitoring that improves asset utilization is therefore going to be high on the list of projects for many utilities.
5. How do you work with utilities and what opportunities do you see in the future?
We’re really in the early days of utilities transforming their business processes and tying together organizational silos. If you look at utilities, they’ve got the IT organization, transmission distribution, metering, billing and so forth. Using technology and new business processes to automate and integrate those units and drive better service and more efficiency is really the name of the game. Breaking down silos within the utility to take full advantage of what new technologies can do will help solve cross-functional automation challenges and transform their business.
6. How are you different from any existing competitors?
The ULP system incorporates unique technology that was developed by our CTO, Dr. Ted Myers and a team of leading wireless engineers. The physical layer implementation of the ULP allows the system to pick up extremely weak signals, which greatly improves the system coverage. When thought of in real-world deployments, the Ultra-Link Processing system provides a greater than 600 times coverage advantage over competing free spectrum radios.
On-Ramp has also developed a novel air interface called Random Phase Multiple Access™ (RPMA), which allows the ULP system maintain a consistent and very high capacity. The system can, in essence, demodulate up to 1000 incoming signals per Access Point (AP) concurrently. By using highly complex mathematical algorithms, the technology is able to condense the search space for these signals by approximately ten thousand times, making this method achievable in low-power commodity hardware. This results in a 25 to 40 times capacity advantage over competing systems. As an example, a single network infrastructure device (the AP) can support more than ten thousand typical smart meters.
While other wireless systems have been able to get to very low receive sensitivity, they have never done so without compromising capacity (essentially by using very narrow bandwidth). The true novelty of the ULP system is the combination of low receive-sensitivity combined with high capacity. Long range serves no purpose if a utility can’t process the incoming data from all the devices it is covering.
7. When will consumers start seeing results from utilities’ Smart Grid initiatives, if they don’t already?
I believe they already are. One of our customers, SDG&E, is a leader in the Smart Grid movement and is already demonstrating environmental and economic benefits by creating a resilient, open, and dynamic energy and information network. This network will also provide a new way for customers, utilities and suppliers to actively participate in energy use and supply decisions. The Smart Grid will empower customers to have better control over their energy usage, increased renewable generation, and will provide integration for their plug-in vehicles. It will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions while maintaining and improving system reliability, operational efficiency and customer privacy – a win-win for everyone.
8. What will the most obvious benefits be and how will the average consumer even know about it?
The most obvious benefit will be the cost, which will be evident in their monthly bills. Consumers will also see more reliable service delivery, and grid automation application will help prepare the grid for new distributed generation (e.g. residential solar), and the massive amount of electric vehicles we will see in the coming decades.
Joaquin Silva co-founded On-Ramp Wireless in 2008 to address the large technology gap for pervasive wide-area wireless in the Smart Grid and utility automation markets. Prior to founding On-Ramp Wireless, Joaquin was co-founder, President and COO of Ostendo Technologies Inc., where he was instrumental in developing a unique display technology and winning several new customer and government programs. Joaquin has extensive experience, including start-up executive leadership, investment banking, and operational management within Wireless, Defense Electronics, and the Display & Semiconductor Industries.
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