Case study: Making utilities smarter

Buoyed by a strong economy, worldwide energy consumption has reached new heights. At the same time, utilities are faced with aging infrastructure and the desire by customers to embrace greener energy and water conservation measures. As such, utilities are turning to the Internet of Things to help optimize usage as well as monitor systems and streamline operations.

To achieve fully sustainable and efficient systems, utilities must keep costs low and provide added value to all end users. Based in The Netherlands, withthegrid is an energy technology company which has launched an IoT solution to help utility customers transition to a fully integrated, intelligent grid.

Through the use of connected devices, the company can monitor and optimize energy and water systems to detect critical performance factors and status indicators such as leaks, pressure and temperature. From an optimization standpoint, the withthegrid solution can assist utilities with demand forecasting, capacity improvement and production optimization.

“Our mission is to improve the efficiency of grid operators, as we see them as an important part of addressing climate change,” said Paul Mignot, co-founder and chief executive of withthegrid. “To do that, we ensure they are always in control of their grid by providing real-time data of what’s occurring. Being able to monitor the grid constantly and consistently helps them become more efficient and reduce their operations costs.”

To ensure its solutions are reliable and able to help utilities detect issues more quickly, withthegrid required a high-performance yet ruggedized cellular antenna to handle a wide range of environmental conditions, often found in metering applications.

Reliable connectivity

withthegrid currently serves several utility customers in the Netherlands, and has goals to further expand across Europe. Its current customers, which include utilities that manage energy grids, gas grids and district heating grids, rely on the company to monitor their grids for issues such as corrosion and leaks, transmitting the data back to withthegrid’s cloud solution, where it is analyzed.

Sensors are spread throughout the country on various types of infrastructure, in areas with both strong and weak reception. Although the Netherlands is one of the most advanced mobile markets, with 4G connectivity in more than 90 per cent of the country, there are still spots where coverage is weaker and a robust antenna is a key requirement.

“Our main strategy in selecting an antenna was to select the best one in order to try to always have connectivity,” said Mignot. “To build robust solutions you need to ensure the antenna is optimized and there is never a case where the antenna is the weak link.”

Withthegrid tried several antenna solutions and ultimately selected one from Taoglas: the à‚ GSA.8822.B 4G/3G/2G LTE T-bar adhesive antenna for “the range of options available, and its suitability for both indoor and outdoor applications.” Flexibility was key, as withthegrid sensors are located in small buildings or on metal poles, and can be exposed to wind, snow, rain and other potential environmental issues.

With the antennas, withthegrid sensors are better able to collect and report data at varying frequency, from every five minutes to every four to six hours, depending on the application and location. Defined thresholds set by the utility determine if the grid is acting properly. If thresholds are exceeded, the utility is alerted if repairs or a manual inspection are needed.

“Being able to be alerted to a malfunction, such as a leak, means utilities can respond more quickly,” Mignot said, “but it’s also helpful for ongoing maintenance of assets. Instead of having to do an annual check of assets, they are monitored consistently. Utilities can use the data collected over time to detect and predict future failures. Overall, the health of the grid is better.”

Read how withthegrid were successful at European Utility Week‘s start-up programme Initiate!. Click here.

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