Next-generation smart networks and ways to connect them

As part of a project to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Keio University’s Faculty of Science and Technology, the University has started an innovative research project involving the industrial, government, and academic sectors. This project is called the Keio Innovation Foundry, or KIF. Its participants have formed a consortium, to co-develop technologies from the Faculty of Science and Technology that are close to having commercial applications. The aim is to pursue a diverse range of joint research, with lively interchange among researchers in all three sectors.

The Keio University Smart Network Research Center, one part of KIF, is led by Professor Naoaki Yamanaka in the Department of Information and Computer Science. The Center is researching smart infrastructure using IT, in particular smart grids and next-generation power control networks.

In the smart grid project, the Center has proposed a new power network system using P2P protocol for EVNO stands for Energy Virtual Network Operator, which is power companies that do not possess infrastructure, and control technology for such businesses.

"An EVNO creates a pair comprising a number of power-consuming users and a generating entity. For example, suppose these three people form one team, and these five people form another team, and within each team, control is done by equalizing the times and amounts of power generation and consumption. Here as well, control is done in the same way. So, that aspect is the same, but the idea comes in when we ask how to equalize the times and amounts. For example, suppose one person is an EVNO that has ample generating facilities and can provide a freely usable service. That’s really convenient for users. On the other hand, here, users want cheap price, so they can’t use the service much even if they want to. Conversely, if they do want to use the service, reducing the power used by other consumers creates a total situation that’s the same as if the first consumers aren’t using it (negawatt control)."

"Let me show you a demo of an automatic matching method. Here, we have eight devices called home gateways. This hairdryer is connected to this house, and if someone wants to use the hairdryer, as I mentioned before, among these users, we find the one that can conserve power most at this time. In other words, the system offers an incentive for adjusting, say, an air-con unit that’s already cooled a room enough or is running in an empty room, or a refrigerator that can be turned off in a few minutes. In this case, I’ve used the hairdryer. When I switched it on, the meter rose sharply. This is the scenario where this user happened to conserve that much power. Similarly, when I switch this off, demand falls, and the situation automatically returns to how it was originally. In this system, a machine automatically finds an optimal device and automatically controls the power."

Electricity bills can be reduced, because the method minimizes the amount of power generated by finding users that minimize their consumption, while simultaneously choosing among nearby generating systems that have the necessary power.

Research is also being done on systems to automatically determine the optimal combination through autonomous learning by computers.

Apart from this application, electric vehicles, which are likely to become widespread, consume a lot of power, so they require high capacity when being charged at home. In this research, when EVs reach home, they communicate with their home gateway, which checks how much power they have left.

Then, the system schedules charging for each EV in turn, by comparing the amounts of power left in neighboring EVs. This system even enables power to be conserved in applications that require high capacity.

Additionally, Professor Yamanaka has successfully developed very high-speed PLZT optical switches, which are needed to instantaneously control large amounts of data from data centers and the like, and formed a start-up business in San Jose, California.

"KIF says that coordination is the most important aspect of this project. Here, while each research group and experiment occupies a separate room, open spaces are available to facilitate communication among the researchers. These spaces can be freely utilized by businesspeople, students, and other people involved in the work; new ideas are also expected to emerge from such communication."