Enel brings team together to find powerful new ways to share data

Wed, 2015-03-04 06:00 -- Jesse Berst

A new effort named Espresso is designed to perk up the business of transmitting data over power lines. Council Lead Partner Enel is leading the effort, which enlists researchers, government agencies and other companies to find ways to turn electrical substations into powerful data hubs.

While the basic technology has existed for some time, in a smart city data is power. Enel and its partners believe that with some advances to the technology, it could provide a way of sharing data when more traditional methods don’t work or are too expensive.

Project Espresso
The project’s name, Espresso, is derived from its mission: Energy Stations Providing Services for Smart Cities (link is in Italian). The idea is that power lines could also operate like phone lines, taking data from sensors along their path and delivering it wherever it’s needed. Given that power lines already reach every part of most cities, it’s infrastructure that already exists and is just waiting to be used.

The challenge has been that power lines aren’t up to the level of traditional communications networks. Interference is one issue. Capacity is another. And data security is also a concern.

Enel is working with other companies and researchers to overcome those obstacles and turn the power lines into a usable communications network. Council Associate Partner Siemens is among those joining the effort. Researchers from the Polytechnic University of Milan and the Association for European Nano Electronics Activities are also contributing.

Utilities also have a greater need for data
Another Enel project illustrates the growing need that utilities have for data from sensors in the field. One illustration of this is Enel Green Power’s Predictive Analytics project, which has installed a network of 2.5 million sensors inside 5,000 wind turbines at EGP’s wind farms.

It’s an ambitious big data project that could give utilities unprecedented ability to diagnose and troubleshoot issues at their wind farms before they significantly impact power generation. The idea is to make the wind turbines as smart – or even smarter – than the cars we drive.

When a sensor in your car detects an issue, its computer records codes that a mechanic can use to diagnose and fix the problem. In Enel’s Predictive Analytics project, each turbine is outfitted with up to 500 sensors that record everything from temperature to vibrations and the performance of individual components.

Enel says the sensors have helped it identify tiny manufacturing defects. Adding big data analytics, it’s now able to specifically tune turbines to boost performance under a specific set of operating conditions. It’s also able to correlate data from various sensors to identify issues that may not appear on one individual sensor and predict the type and timing of failures.

And combined with Project Espresso, all that data from the wind turbines may flow back to a command center over the very same lines that deliver the power.

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Jesse Berst is the founding Chairman of the Smart Cities Council. Click to learn about the benefits you receive when you join the Council for free. Follow @Jesse_Berst and connect on LinkedIn.

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