IoT and power

Kevin Parmenter, Power Systems Design Contributor



Depending on who you talk to, 20 billion to 50 billion things, from a light bulb to an aircraft and anything in between, will be Internet-enabled in the next three years. All this will need to be remotely monitored and controlled and have software security to keep the nefarious at bay. The IoT (Internet of Things), IIoT (industrial IoT) and IoE (Internet of Everything) all come down to this:  having the ability to hook up things we already have – plus things that are new – using networks so that data can be shared and processed.

Communications devices and systems need efficient power as well ubiquitous connection to it. The energy consumption of devices is decreasing even as transducers and sensors become more advanced. However, some remote sensors will be costly to maintain, especially those embedded into structures.  Running slow sensors saves power (the web has been built out with 100 GBPS in mind) and lower-energy-consumption RF devices and techniques can save power as well. 

Keep in mind that the power from the front to back of the infrastructure, from sensing to end user use, is only as reliable as the power sources. Batteries may have a projected life of 10 years in applications with 15-20 year projected lifetimes, and they may corrode and have chemical induced failure modes. The demands on batteries may be too great when one considers temperature extremes, shock and vibration.

For applications located far from a data center, or when batteries may not be viable, powering IoT devices becomes an issue. This makes it imperative to come up with creative techniques to make sure assets can work and last for decades with little or no service. Harvesting techniques offer the best solutions, and they are becoming more possible every day.  

Communications devices and systems will need efficient power as well ubiquitous connections (and data costs will be affected since data worth pennies can’t use a cellular connection billed at dollar rates). IT services and applications for IoT will largely consist of software systems, but of course power will be needed to run the platforms that the software is written on.  I’m hopeful that accessible connectivity will be built out.

What does the IoT future look like? Energy transformation, all types of wearables and “smart” everything: homes, cities, transportation systems, infrastructure and more. Reconstruction and rebuilding of entire industries are taking place which likely means a rethinking of system architectures and approaches to both old and new problems and possibilities.  This will probably come about by applying new technologies that we discover, or by improving existing systems that have been in place for a long time.  We do know this much. Power electronics will be of critical importance to make it all work.