David E. Culler, Randy H. Katz and Seth R. Sanders
National Science Foundation and Department of Energy
LoCal (A Network Architecture for Localized Electrical Energy Reduction, Generation and Sharing) investigates Information Age approaches for managing society's most limited resource: energy. The world's electric grids are an engineering wonder of last century's physical age, each with a vast geographic reach, epitomized by a highly centralized, synchronized, and reliable distribution tree that allows electric power to be consumed without concern for its source. But rapidly changing energy demands, incorporation of non-dispatchable renewable sources, and the need to proactively manage load, have pushed this aging marvel to its limit. As the rise in greenhouse gases threatens civilization, it is time to examine how pervasive information can fundamentally change the nature of energy production, distribution and use. Taking guidance from the design principles of the dominant triumph of the cyber age, the Internet, we investigate how to design an essentially more scalable, flexible and resilient electric power infrastructure-one that encourages efficient use, integrates local generation, and manages demand through omnipresent awareness of energy availability and use over time. The crucial insight is to integrate information exchange everywhere that power is transferred. The LoCal Energy Network is a cyber overlay on the energy distribution system in its various physical manifestations, e.g., machine rooms, buildings, neighborhoods, isolated generation islands and regional grids. Pervasive information exchange will enable a more efficient scalable energy system with improved resilience and quality of delivered power. Our key contribution is to bring together (1) pervasive information about energy availability and use, (2) interactive load/supply negotiation protocols, (3) controllable loads and sources, and (4) logically packetized energy, buffered and forwarded over a physical energy network. Together these yield a system for agile, distributed, and integrated management of energy that can buffer energy on the path to reduce peak-to-average energy consumption, moderate infrastructure provisioning, and encourage power-limited design and operation. Our building block is the intelligent power switch, logically connecting sources to loads by bundling information (bits) with energy (electrons) flows.