Meta’s Smart Power Field Trial Proves that Smart Off-Grid Power is the Missing Link in the Race To Connect The World
Of the 4 billion people still not using the internet, many lack connectivity simply because implementing reliable power infrastructure is cost-prohibitive. To solve the power infrastructure challenge, Meta partnered with Clear Blue Technologies to evaluate Smart Off-Grid power as a low-cost, reliable power solution for telecom. Smart Off-Grid’s ability to meet availability requirements without system oversizing is unique for an off-grid power solution. In this blog, we showcase the proven effectiveness of Smart Off-Grid power’s 40% lower cost from the SmartPower field trial and discuss its importance in the race to connect the world.
Obstacles to establishing lasting connectivity:
Costly, Unreliable Power Infrastructure
Unreliable power infrastructure in remote or rural regions presents a challenge for implementing reliable connectivity. The extremely high costs of upgrading or installing new grid infrastructure, or installing conventional (solar only or hybrid solar/diesel generator) off-grid power have rendered rural telephony prohibitive for service providers.
Meeting Service Availability Requirements Without Oversizing
To make rural telecom commercially viable, service providers need an infrastructure solution that is both low in cost and sufficiently reliable to meet service availability requirements. Not only is it critical to meet the SLA, but to ensure that any downtime that does occur does not affect the user experience. If a site has 99% availability but has downtime during high-traffic periods, it delivers poor service for users. The availability requirement is a key challenge to be solved, and it must be done without oversizing the system. It is often thought that the only way to ensure service availability is to create a system with as many solar panels and batteries as could possibly be needed to cover unforeseen demand. However, with power systems accounting for approximately 25% of the total site cost, reducing power costs is critical for establishing commercially viable telecom. The service availability and user experience requirements must be met without oversizing the system, and the SmartPower Project set out to find the solution as part of Meta’s effort to connect the unconnected.
This graphic shows how without Smart Off-Grid, operators would have to oversize the system to 500W when their target is only 400W because they have to cover for both a high availability target of 100% (no downtime) and unforeseen demand spikes. With Smart Off-Grid, power can be reduced at non-peak times to ensure enough power to cover availability targets and unforeseen demand periods.
Field Trial Purpose and Overview
As discussed in a previous blog post, to increase global connectivity, innovative
power and network solutions are essential. Meta launched Project SEISMIC (Smart
Energy Infrastructure for Mobile Internet Connectivity, now called the
‘SmartPower Project’) to find an innovative power solution which could help bring
millions more people online.
In order to evaluate the Smart Off-Grid solution, a field trial was launched whereby two sites (subject to similar weather and user demand conditions) were deployed in rural Peru under the coverage region of Mayu Telecomunicaciones. One of these sites (Shambo, Peru) deployed conventional off-grid power without smart management. To ensure the reliability of the site, the Shambo site had 13 panels and 4 batteries with a 2% unmet load target (oversized). The Smart Off-Grid test site (Naranjal, Peru) deployed Clear Blue’s Smart Off-Grid power system with remote smart monitoring and dynamic power management. The Smart Off-Grid site had 5 solar panels and 2 batteries, with a 2% unmet load target. Overall, these two sites were monitored over a 6-month period, and the Smart Off-Grid site was proactively managed through Clear Blue’s Smart software.
The Smart Off-Grid Power Solution
During the 6-month field trial, the Smart Off-Grid power system was monitored and managed by the Clear Blue service team. The Smart Off-Grid system constantly communicated with the cloud monitoring and management software, Illumience. As a result, Smart Off-Grid delivered high service availability with minimal effect on user experience and did so at a low cost.
Dynamic Power Management
The most important aspect of Smart Off-Grid, which solved the key rural telecom challenges, was the ability to dynamically manage and dim power. With mission-critical services such as telecom, there are real consequences to service downtime. If downtime occurs during peak hours for users, the user experience is diminished and calls are dropped. What Smart Off-Grid critically provided was the ability to plan the downtime to ensure it did not significantly affect the user experience. Through Smart Off-Grid’s dynamic power control, power was conserved through planned outages during non-peak hours of the day in order to guarantee reliability when users needed it most. This way, Mobile Network Operatos (MNOs) can trust that they can bring a site onto their network.
The Smart Off-Grid field trial found that Smart Off-Grid significantly reduced telecom site costs while maintaining the highest reliability and >99% service uptime (with minimal impact on user experience). By forecasting energy, and dynamically managing system power, fewer solar panels and batteries were used. The Smart Off-Grid field trial found that Clear Blue’s innovative solution had a 60% reduction in solar panels and a 50% reduction in batteries compared to the traditional off-grid system. A smaller system contributed to a 40% lower overall power cost compared to the traditional off-grid system and a 10% reduction in overall site CAPEX.
What is the significance?
High Power Availability, No Unplanned Downtime
So, why is it important that Smart Off-Grid provides drastically lower costs without sacrificing service availability? Well, cost and reliability are the two greatest obstacles to establishing universal global connectivity. Service providers target >98% service availability, meaning that customers get minimal downtime. By achieving >99% availability, the Smart Off-Grid system had less than 7.3 hours of downtime per month (for 6 months). On top of this, because power was dynamically managed, downtime was planned and therefore did not impact the user experience during peak hours.
Major Project Cost Savings
In addition, when the 40% power cost savings per site is put in the context of major rollouts, the cost savings become staggering. In the telecom industry, hundreds of sites are rolled out at a time, and projects may involve thousands of sites over several years. For a 200-site project for example, if every system is reduced by 8 solar panels and 2 batteries, as was the case in the SmartPower project, that means 1600 fewer solar panels and 400 fewer batteries. Without a doubt, such hardware reductions translate to a staggering amount of cost savings.
By reducing power costs by 40% without sacrificing service availability, Smart Off-Grid provides a scalable telecom solution to help connect the unconnected around the globe. Overall, the field trial with Meta Technologies demonstrates a major breakthrough in telecom innovations. Through Smart Off-Grid, reliable connectivity can be brought to the most hard-to-reach areas of the world, be it remote regions or urban jungles with inadequate grid power.
Sign up for the webinar, where Clear Blue’s CEO Miriam Tuerk discusses the study results and impact in greater detail. Register here.
Sign up for first access to the ebook on the Smart Power Project when it is released in November.