Finding the common ground for Smart Grids and IoT

Curious about smart grids, we talked with Al-Sakib Khan Pathan, associate professor at the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the Southeast University, Bangladesh about how exactly they are connected with Internet of Things. We are happy to bring a comprehensive overview of the overlap between much revered IoT and somewhat intimidating Smart Grids from the general chair of SGIoT 2017, EAI International Conference on Smart Grid Asissted Internet, taking place on July 11-13, 2017 in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada.
Since this will be the first edition of the SGIoT conference, could you introduce its central topic and why it’s important? What is this event‘s vision?
The central theme of the first edition of the SGIoT conference is recognizing the fact that smart grid can be considered as a practical example of the IoT (Internet of Things) composed of embedded machines, which sense and control the behavior of the energy world. In the research arena, we often encounter various new terminologies and concepts. Sometimes from a simple idea, things become reality very quickly and sometimes some of the concepts fade away as the time passes by. Though the concepts of IoT and smart grid started kind of independently without linking one area with the other, in the course of time, we see the concepts have some noticeable commonalities that would allow them to be considered under the same shade. IoT is a grand vision as it talks about millions of interconnected uniquely identifiable objects (or, ‘things’) and their virtual representations in an Internet-like structure while smart grid is a smart, interactive, and dynamic electric grid that connects power generation, transmission, distribution, and consumers using information and communication technologies. There would be of course various types of ‘things’ in the structure of smart grid that include: smart meters, sensors, computing devices, portable machines, and communications devices. Hence, smart grid is indeed an excellent example of IoT’s practical application. On the other hand, IoT would support the formation of smart grid’s structure.
Once the connection between IoT and smart grid is realized, we’d also realize that many issues in both areas may get common solutions or solution for one area would at least give some usable idea about how to solve an issue in the other area. Hence, with this event, we’d like to bring together the researchers who are working on the apparently disconnected fields. Smart solution for IoT would definitely provide support for smart grid and vice versa.
What have been the most recent and promising innovations in smart grid assisted Internet of Things? What are the biggest challenges that this area is facing?
There are quite a few mentionable recent innovations or innovative ideas like, connecting community of subscribers, optimal electricity use for agricultural IoT devices with the aid of smart grid, energy-efficient e-Healthcare support via smart grid assisted IoT, smart grid assisted power control for IoT connected devices in commercial building, and so on. Some of the innovative concepts within the general field of IoT may not be directly linked with the actual “smart grid” that deals with power generation, transmission, and distribution however, the ideas could be beneficial for this inter-connected field.
In my opinion, the biggest challenge that this area is facing is the lack of coordination among the works in both areas. Many of the researchers see these as disjoint fields and fail to realize that the works in one area are closely linked with the other one. As for technical challenges, IoT and smart grid both have their own issues. IoT would pose serious security concerns as it envisions a pervasive global connectivity of various heterogeneous devices that have different levels of security protections. Again, in case of smart grid, it is a great challenge how to balance between user-data privacy and transparency of electricity usage-data.
What do you think will be the necessary action to tackle these challenges?
To tackle the issue of lack of coordination, we have already taken our initiative to bridge the gap between IoT and smart grid with the call for the SGIoT 2017 conference. Once a formal conference call is available, the researchers pay attention to the issue and we’d be glad to give them the first such platform to share their ideas to enable better coordination in the research efforts in this area. As for the technical challenges mentioned before, researchers are coming up with innovative ideas to solve those however, I think perhaps in real-life case, we’d need to truncate the envisioned vast extent of IoT, i.e., it in reality may not be too vast a “network of networks of things”! Again, smart grid may not always be so ‘smart’ to meet the need of various implementation scenarios. Some subscribers may give preference to their electricity usage data’s privacy over smart consumption. Hence, smart grid solution must not be forced on people but should be given as an option.
What are your expectations for SGIoT 2017?
Of course, as the General Chair of the event, I’d expect a very successful SGIoT 2017. I’ve already mentioned why we thought about organizing such an event and who the key people we are trying to bring together. We’d indeed like to see participants from around the globe. Sharing ideas is one of the key expectations. Given the emerging nature of the areas, we do not expect only concrete technical or practical solutions for various research problems but we like to see futuristic works and thoughts that would merge the two areas: smart grid and IoT.