What’s the best implementation of smart energy strategy that you have seen?

Wed, 05/21/2014 - 12:14pm

Ed Brorein, Agilent Technologies, Inc., Power and Energy Division

While I haven’t seen any one particular smart energy strategy that stands out in orders of magnitude above others from my involvement as part of Agilent Technologies’ Power and Energy Division, I would say many of the best ones are based on what can first be done to conserve energy. Among those numerous smart energy conservation strategies that are making useful improvements, one I see that has potential for standing out noticeably more is one establishing and adopting new standards to improve efficiency of electrical motors.

Why is that? Electrical motors supposedly consume about 45% of the electricity generated world-wide. One may not think about it much, but electrical motors are extremely pervasive; from the ones in our home’s heating, air conditioning, and most of our appliances, throughout our commercial and industrial facilities operating in all kinds of functions, to our national infrastructure for ventilating tunnels, operating draw bridges, and much, much more.

Virtually all of these are AC induction motors. They are often oversized to assure sufficient start up torque. Some AC motors that are partly loaded may run as low as 65% efficiency as a result. Electrical motors can achieve virtually 100% efficiency in theory and well over 90% in practice. In the United States the Department of Energy (DOE) recently proposed a new rule for increasing efficiency of motors ranging from 1 to 500 horsepower.  Similar proposals and standards are likewise being brought out in other countries around the world. It only makes sense to establish higher efficiency standards for electrical motors.

Cost effective technology for improving electrical efficiency of motors exists today. First there are much more efficient designs for existing AC induction motors. Taking things even further, solid state variable frequency drives (VDF) with appropriate motor designs can take efficiencies well over 90%, which is a huge improvement. In addition, with VFD, not only is there substantial improvement in the motor efficiency itself, but the efficiency of the overall device can be greatly improved as well. One example of this is “smart” refrigeration systems that can adjust motor speed for more efficient operation across the whole range cooling demanded. Requiring more efficient electrical motors for anything new makes a lot of sense any way you look at it!

Chris Ammann, Global Technical Marketing Engineer, Power, Avnet Electronics Marketing

When you hear smart energy, you immediately think about things like smart meters, Wi-Fi thermostats, turning on and off appliances during peak hours to save on energy costs, basically communications with devices creating smart power loads. What about taking the concept of “smart energy” and expanding it to the realm of energy harvesting and the potential for self-sustaining energy?

The use of hydroelectric generators to power valve controls in plumbing applications is a great implementation of what could be considered smart energy.  Products like automatic flushers or faucets by nature have water flowing through them.  Energy is created when water flows through the valve, spinning the hydroelectric generator.  This energy is then used to power a small low power microcontroller that opens or closes the valve based on a sensor input.  To have power available when needed, the generator charges either a battery or supercapacitor which stores the energy as the system stays in standby mode until a sensor trigger event.  When the sensor triggers, the valve is opened and the resulting water flow is used to regenerate the energy consumed from the battery or supercapacitor.  Harnessing this energy is a great example of a regenerative energy source.  As the technology advances and becomes more efficient, the need for battery backups in such applications may be eliminated.  Thinking bigger and using the same concepts, I’m excited about the energy potential of tapping into the ocean tides.  The ocean currents are a tremendous source of energy that, as technologies advance, could provide us with a large reliable source of power.

Steven Collier, IEEE member, Director Smart Grid Strategies at Milsoft Utility Solutions

New grid intelligence applications are shifting the industry paradigm by doing things that have never been possible before.  A good example is Distribution Fault Anticipation (DFA), a method for detecting incipient faults or failures in order to prevent service interruptions. Texas A&M University (TAMU:DFA) is a leader in this innovative application for improved grid analysis and operations.   

Conventional grid operations are based on: (1) planning and constructing a distribution grid that is as robust as it is economically and technically feasible, (2) implementing system-wide, time-based preventative maintenance programs to minimize equipment failures, and (3) detecting, locating and eliminating causes of service outages in order to restore service as quickly as possible.  DFA, on the other hand, involves sophisticated sensing and analytics to detect problems that can be corrected before they cause a service interruption.

An electronic device automatically samples and analyzes outputs of potential transformers and current transformers on distribution feeders to detect low level transients or distortions that are generally too fast and/or subtle to be sensed by SCADA, protective relays or fault recorders.  The sensing is done by a device not unlike a phasor measurement unit which samples the outputs often enough (e.g., hundreds to thousands of times a cycle) to obtain a waveform of sufficient high definition that low level or very fast perturbations can be detected and analyzed. 

This involves way too much data to be transmitted continuously to the utility, much less to be reviewed and analyzed.  Instead, the DFA monitor does the analysis on the spot to match waveform disturbances with a growing library of patterns for known causes of service interruptions (e.g., vegetation intermittently contacting lines, loose cable clamp, malfunctioning equipment, improper equipment settings, UG cable insulation / conductor degradation, conductor contamination arcing, etc.).  These are then alarmed and the event data log is transmitted so that utility operations can investigate and perhaps mitigate the causes before a service interruption occurs.

As the electric grid continues to decentralize with more energy production, storage and management being deployed at the distribution edges of the grid, this kind of distributed intelligence will be even more important and valuable for reliability, security, quality of service, efficiency and economy.

Brett Burger, Senior Product Manager - Smart Grid Systems at National Instruments

The best implementations of smart energy strategies I have seen involve examining long-term goals for growth on both the demand side and the generation side. This seems somewhat implied from the word “strategy”, but it really involves planning for unknowns. It’s easy to replace old equipment or systems with newer, more efficient ones and calculate an ROI, but with distributed renewable generation, PEVs, and government regulations, it becomes much more difficult to calculate a static ROI for the future.

Sometimes I compare good smart energy implementations to good smartphone implementations. They both have a focus on platforms and flexible software that can evolve with the needs of the market. Utilities that are deploying software-based  platform systems can better keep up with modern grid needs with applications such as demand response systems and large-scale microgrid control.

Demand response systems let utilities drop loads rather than spin up reserves in order to meet demand. Under normal use, these systems focus on loads that can be dropped during the peak part of the day (afternoon) with minimal impact on the customer. Adjusting load monitoring and shedding logic is more easily scalable on a planned system that incorporates flexible software.

One example is Toronto Hydro; the electric utilities company has been working with LocalGrid Technologies to help handle expanding renewable energy generation on their grid without new capital equipment. The products deployed form a platform designed to help automate grid control decisions without needing a central decision model. As a software-based platform, the devices can be updated as research evolves, the grid grows, or as security and communications standards change.
Smart energy strategies embrace change to prevent new grid solutions today from looking like “dumb grids” 10 years from now.

Aung Tu, Editorial Board Advisor

One of the best business implementation of smart energy strategy that I have seen is what Elon Musk has done with SolarCity.
One of the biggest hurdles for solar power implementation is upfront cost. This is why feed-in tariffs and government subsidies are needed to encourage adoption of this new, clean technology. However, SolarCity completely turned it around, taking away the barrier to conversion.
As part of their model, they pay for the full installation cost and sign up customers to a long-term lease which includes monitoring and maintenance services on the solar panels. In effect, they are making a short-term investment that removes the barrier for people to convert to a clean energy source for long-term gain (and removing the up-front cost and risk from the paying customer).


Share this Story

You may login with either your assigned username or your e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.