Low Power WAN Yields High Energy Monitoring Solution

Data aggregation and low-power networks enable energy companies to roll out Internet of Things-enabled devices that bring visibility into their operations. With a focus on optimization and predictive maintenance, these technologies and the emerging LoRaWAN standard can protect their investments.


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Image credit: Moxa

Energy companies manage operations with a large footprint, and they maintain assets in multiple, dispersed locations. A traditionally slow-to-change industry, oil and gas companies are embracing the shift to digitization. With increasingly more connected IoT devices, these companies can make data-driven decisions about their businesses.

In some cases, an oil company’s resources are on remote—even frozen—land that is difficult to access for weeks or months. Energy companies are installing sensors and other IoT-enabled devices to glean information from remote locations. Sensor data can assure operators that equipment is functioning properly and enable employees to prioritize equipment maintenance when the area is more accessible.

In addition, access to power is a challenge in remote oil fields. It can be cost-prohibitive to bring power to every device in every location. That’s where low-power technologies come into play.

On the Down Low

A key enabler of remote sensor deployments is Low Power Wide Area Networking (LPWAN) technology, and LoRaWAN, or Long Range Wide Area Network technology. The LoRaWAN specification, developed by the LoRa Alliance, is designed specifically for low bit rate, battery-powered devices and establishes device-to-infrastructure physical layer parameters and protocols to support interoperability across manufacturers.

The LoRaWAN topology relies on gateways to send messages between the end devices and the network server. The gateways, which are connected to the server via standard IP links, act as a bridge and provide RF-to-IP packet conversion. It supports bi-directional communication and multicast addressing groups. The standard is designed to protect end users against investing in equipment that becomes obsolete due to technology changes.

Energy companies can implement low-power networks to support IoT deployments without sacrificing security. The benefit of the data collection improves all aspects of the business operation, from scheduled equipment maintenance to deposit and drilling analytics.

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Image credit: Moxa

Ready, Set, Connect

LoRaWAN is emerging as a strong wireless candidate, but its low bandwidth levels limit its use to sharing aggregated data with a centralized server. For long-haul connectivity, energy companies are creating hybrid networks that might combine LTE, 5G, satellite, WiFI, and LPWAN.

To address the sketchy connectivity and desire to consolidate data collection, Moxa worked with an oil company to deploy a remote monitoring and wireless network backhaul system. The oil company wanted to connect its compressor stations, which are spaced about 12 miles apart along the pipeline. Each compressor station aggregates data from devices and sensors in the field. The data was transmitted over a 900 MHz serial radio, which had become unreliable.

Moxa created a wireless backhaul system using its AWK-3131A wireless AP/bridge/client. Field data aggregation is handled using Moxa’s MGate W5208 wireless protocol gateways. The edge devices retrieve Modbus data from the field sites and forward it to the compressor stations using a wireless connection.

Moxa parlayed that experience into an Intel® IoT Market Ready Solution for other energy companies. Moxa’s IMRS offering collects, monitors, and analyzes IoT data using advanced software tools. The solution comprises hardware powered by Intel Atom® processors, ThingsPro device management software, and Microsoft Azure cloud services.

With the rapid increase in IoT devices and machine-to-machine communications, the LPWAN market is projected to exceed $80 billion by 2027. LPWAN and LoRaWAN are frequently used in smart building implementations, but they are particularly enticing to oil and energy companies, which maintain far-flung equipment and resources.


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