Power lines morphing into packet networks?

Nissan electric car being recharged

Telecommunications networks started their evolution towards "packetization"  back in the middle of the last century (actually multiplexing goes back to the middle of the previous century being used in telegraphy) by the adoption of the PCM, Pulse Code Modulation. However, the packet network as we know it today is associated to the Internet and the IP/TCP. The idea is to split, package, the information to be transmitted into packets that will be transmitted over the network, exploiting the availability of the reachable links.

By using packets one can generalise the multiplexing principle at the level of the whole network, thus increasing the overall efficiency.

Packet networks in telecommunications are so familiar today, at least to engineers, that they have become the way to transmit information.

However, one thing is to packetise information in chunks, a different story is to packetise energy for delivery! And yet, this is what researchers at the University of Vermont are proposing in a paper published in the IEEE Transactions on Smart Grids.

The study points out that the increased number of electric cars is going to put a strain on the electrical grid to the point that it might crumble. To avoid this they propose to have distributed intelligence in the grid and in the cars so that the balancing of energy distribution can be made by stopping recharging a car for a while as the grid serves another one. In this scheme, a car will be charged for 5 minutes and then recharge will stop for a while, till more power is available in that area.  In the end, the customer will not care as long as the car battery is replenished by 7am when she will unplug the car and drive to the office.

I can also imagine that we might run into discussion on grid network neutrality, as we do with Internet. Should the energy packet be sent in a transparent way to all users or could a power company flag customers (and packets) to give some better (faster) service than others? I guess I would be prepared to pay a bit more to make sure that I get all needed packets within the next three hours since today I will have to leave at midnight...

Interesting solutions opening up interesting problems...

Author - Roberto Saracco

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