THE CHANGING FACE OF SOLAR
Improvements to the wireless network infrastructure, coupled with an array of new integrated devices, are changing the game in the rail industry and making solar power plants a viable solution. “Wireless IP broadband networks have proven that they can satisfy the reliability, bandwidth and security requirements needed for mission-critical applications,” says Mike Bailey, vice president of engineering and operations at Tropos Networks of Sunnyvale, Calif. “We have seen command, control and surveillance applications on wireless networks becoming increasingly critical as rail operators continue to improve the safety, security and on-time performance of their transportation systems. Solar power, power bridges and UPS products are all essential design components.”
Technologies have evolved to the point where it is now financially feasible and reliable to use solar power, and the convergence of disparate technologies is providing new opportunities for integrated solutions. Wireless telemetry systems are now using the latest encrypted 4G or Wi-Fi technologies. IP video and surveillance technologies are more intelligent, integrated and are very power-budget friendly to operate. Wireless IP technologies using (initially) Wi-Fi and (eventually) 4G LTE/WiMAX technologies have matured to be able to support a much broader deployment and are designed to take advantage of the new wireless spectrum now available.
Because of these technological advancements, the cost to deploy solar is lower simply because the power draws are lower and the commonality of power requirements reduces power transformations. Nevertheless, systems require proper design with rugged and reliable equipment. As a cost avoidance, solar power plants usually save the end-user significant amounts of budget over trenching.
A U.S. Department of State designer who plans security for airports in Central and South America as well as in the Middle East described the challenges presented when installing perimeter surveillance with cameras and wireless radios in the most remote of locations. His airport projects typically involve potential terrorist staging areas and/or those where contraband issues exist. Therefore, video and wireless networks are critical. These “hotspots” present a myriad of challenges. Gate locks need remote power/UPS coverage and perimeter fence lines need intrusion detection systems. Both of these applications need overlapping surveillance. Trenching through the tarmac under any condition is nearly impossible. Trenching around the tarmac is not only costly but during rainy season any copper in the ground is likely to have issues. Remote entrances or lengthy fence lines are very difficult to cover. Because this DOS contact believes in solar power plants, he plans the optimal device location and either connects to existing power, uses solar or connects to a light pole using a power bridge. For any node he considers critical, he uses outdoor UPSs for reliability and transient suppression. Runway and perimeter lighting is controlled by the control tower, and video surveillance cannot be powered by the same system. To address these challenges, the DOS contact has found solar and wireless networks to be very functional, effective and reliable and will continue to deploy them.
NEW REVENUE OPPORTUNITIES
While the initial discussion amongst tier-1 rail and passenger rail carriers has revolved around the associated costs to implement positive train control, the possibility of new service revenues for rail carriers should not be overlooked. One emerging example of having to implement a wireless network across the rail line is the ability to vastly improve cargo tracking services for customers of rail carriers. Automatic equipment identification is a radio frequency (RF) system whereby electronic transponders mounted on the side of rail cars communicate to trackside readers. The immediate service could be real-time tracking of a particular intermodal railcar.
Another more subtle but highly lucrative area would be to allow customers using rail transport to track the location and status/condition of the cargo in real-time. RFID, radio frequency ID technologies, have developed to the point where customers can utilize the rail carrier’s wireless infrastructure to track cargo and provide immediate status. In addition, any cargo lost in transit can be tracked from loading to customer receipt — reducing if not eliminating cargo lost in transit. “Rail carriers will be able to provide new value-added services to its cargo customers once the investment of putting a positive train control system in place,” says Alex Hardie, president and CEO of Earth Services Corp., an alternative energy consultant.