Consortium targets trillions of Watt-hours

Sep 15, 2004

GE Global Research, Sensicast Systems and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) are collaborating on a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) project to reduce the cost of owning motor-monitoring systems dramatically by developing low-cost wireless sensor networks and systems. Electric motors use 65% of the total electricity consumed by U.S. industry, according to the DOE.

“We share the DOE's commitment to use technology however possible to help improve America's energy efficiency,” says Dan Sexton, project leader at GE Global Research. “Wireless-sensor networks have the potential to provide cost-effective, new technology to dramatically increase energy efficiency throughout industry. GE’s vision for the future includes using wireless-sensor technology in a wide variety of industrial and consumer applications to improve the way we monitor, protect and control the world around us.”

The project is a three-year, $6 million program with a 50/50 cost share, where risks are distributed equally among the U.S. government and industry partners. It is part of the $61 million “Industries of the Future” program, sponsored by the DOE, which focuses on improving energy efficiency throughout strategic industries within the United States.

The program has three phases:

  • Phase 1 (January - December 2004). Conduct a feasibility study to understand technical challenges
  • Phase 2 (January - December 2005). Build prototype systems and complete proof-of-concept experiments
  • Phase 3. Implement complete system at a test site and collect and analyze operational data.

GE Global Research has been selected to lead the project to develop novel, low-cost wireless sensor networks for industrial equipment monitoring. Sensicast is providing mesh networking software that eliminates signal interference and integrates the wireless network into the existing plant network. RPI is developing physics-based models for analysis and predicting motor lifetime.

How it works
Wireless sensors will be installed on selected motors in a plant operation. The sensors will monitor parameters critical to each motor’s condition and efficiency based on a combination of measurements such as vibration, temperature and power quality. This data will then be transmitted wirelessly to a computer that analyzes the data from each sensor. Potential problems will be transmitted to plant personnel via phone, pager or e-mail as an advanced warning system. This will allow plant personnel to repair or replace motors before their efficiency drops or they fail entirely.

According to Paul Serieko, CEO of Sensicast, “Electric-motor-driven systems consume 23% of electricity used in the United States — a truly staggering number. Working with GE and the Department of Energy to deploy smart wireless-mesh networking technology for improving these motors’ energy efficiency is a real-world example of technology making a significant difference.”

Future applications
Technology being developed for this program offers two advantages, the project partners say. The first is a low-power communications network that operates in an industrial environment for years on a single battery. The second advantage is a configurable, two-way communications network, enabling the use of control applications. For example, if a monitoring system is being used on a generator and has sent notification that it is running too hot, the monitoring personnel could issue wireless commands back to the generator for it to turn on its exhaust fan.

These capabilities enable potential applications across many industries, but some possibilities include security applications, process monitoring and control, asset tracking and patient monitoring.