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It certainly is true that implementing a successful PLC system is a challenge, but the same can be said for wireless: meters are often installed in unfavourable locations like basements and in most of the world outside the US, houses are built using solid materials like stone or concrete which are far from transparant for radio waves. Using PLC is very attractive for grid operators as this is the only solution offering plug&play: you connect the meter to the LV-network and at the same time it can contact its concentrator. Noise and variable impedances at PLC-frequencies is a real and tough problem however and one can say that in the future one can only expect the number of noise sources in appliances to further increase (electronic ballasts for energy efficient lighting, Photo-voltaic convertors, electric cars, ...). We at Eandis have developed a solution for these problems: our patented technology uses filters to isolate the customers' LV-loads from the outside grid and we decided to use multiple gateways on each network segment to further increase reliability of the powerline communication. It's implemented in a test area with about 3000 customers and we are able to consistently read out over 95 % of the meters every hour and over 99% daily. In fact we had more issues with the firmware and software than with the PLC. By using multiple gateways we get a bandwidth of up to 9.6 kbps per 10 connected meters average, which we consider sufficient to be able to support IP over PLC in the future.
I am not ready to say narrowband PLC has out-lived its usefulness. The early implementations were really for fault detection in power transmission (though there were challenges to 'jump' across transformers) and the repair. From the utility provider's point of view, this was and still is a necessary piece of the communication needed in a system, even if it ends up being a backup/redundant.
Narrow band communication over power lines certainly would face a few challenges, but not the legal ones that broadband faced, caused by it's interference generation. The reason for seeking narrow band communication in some areas is because there is no internet there, so the assertion that internet is a better choice is sort of not the issue. It is possible that other methods might be better, but the questions about relative cost and reliability need to be answered in detail before that call can be made correctly. Glittering generalities have no place in the decision making process, only actual data.
PLC from a technology point of view isn't useless at all. It depends on the application but obviously there is not a single technology that fits all.
Even if get closer to standards on communications providing solutions for a wide range of scenarios, some special cases will always have their own rules.
Coming up with business models generating revenue with PLC isn't that easy but also a complete different story.
Research in PLC has brought up good results which diffused to other areas too. In some parts of the world PLC is used successfully. Beside that technology in general provides diversity in people's life and business. PLC is one of it.
The author sumarizes: "power line as communications medium presets unique challenges."
An understatement, to say the least.
The entire concept of PLC makes no sense, either from an engineering or business perspective. And I think you have to state your objective, in analyzing any proposal.
IF you want to enable remote or automatic meter reading, to save utilities labor expense-- forget about power comms--use available wideband--and either provide consumers a discount for automatic reading, or cut a deal with cable companies or cellphone carriers, for data backhaul from a smart meter.
IF you want to provide realtime command and control of the national grid, to provide smart power routing, and source switching, to match peak demand and alternative source variabiity, you need an agile wideband system which is separate from the network you want to control. And we've already got that over 95% of the US, with the internet.
From an investment standpoint, as well as a communications engineering perspective, PLC is a technology which offers nothing.
The only reason it's still around is the relative expense of wideband (way down from where it was 20 years ago, and falling) versus sunk cost in the existing utilities outside plant.
Overlay divested power generation and distribution companies on that backdrop, and it makes even less sense.
It's time for a national energy vision, and a policy for implementation. We're wasting time on PLC.
NASA's Orion Flight Software Production Systems Manager Darrel G. Raines joins Planet Analog Editor Steve Taranovich and Embedded.com Editor Max Maxfield to talk about embedded flight software used in Orion Spacecraft, part of NASA's Mars mission. Live radio show and live chat. Get your questions ready.
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